Isolated compact elliptical galaxies: Stellar systems that ran away

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  24 Apr 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6233, pp. 418-421
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa3344

Galaxies stripped down and evicted

It is easy to imagine that the relatively small and dense compact elliptical galaxies once had more to them. Especially when massive galactic neighbors are seen nearby that may have robbed them of their matter, but sometimes there are no such neighbors. Chilingarian and Zolotukhin have mined survey data to show that stripped-down galaxies are found in varied environments, with and without obvious disruptive companions. These isolated galaxies may still have been tidally stripped and then ejected from more crowded neighborhoods.

Science, this issue p. 418


Compact elliptical galaxies form a rare class of stellar system (~30 presently known) characterized by high stellar densities and small sizes and often harboring metal-rich stars. They were thought to form through tidal stripping of massive progenitors, until two isolated objects were discovered where massive galaxies performing the stripping could not be identified. By mining astronomical survey data, we have now found 195 compact elliptical galaxies in all types of environment. They all share similar dynamical and stellar population properties. Dynamical analysis for nonisolated galaxies demonstrates the feasibility of their ejection from host clusters and groups by three-body encounters, which is in agreement with numerical simulations. Hence, isolated compact elliptical and isolated quiescent dwarf galaxies are tidally stripped systems that ran away from their hosts.

View Full Text

Stay Connected to Science