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The morphology–density relation in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey



Present address: Dept. of Physics & Astronomy, The John Hopkins University, 3400 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21218-2686, USA.


We have studied the morphology–density relation and morphology–cluster-centric-radius relation using a volume-limited sample (0.05 < z < 0.1, Mr* < −20.5) of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) data. Major improvements compared with previous work are: (i) automated galaxy morphology classification capable of separating galaxies into four types; (ii) three-dimensional local galaxy density estimation; and (iii) the extension of the morphology–density relation into the field region. We found that the morphology–density and morphology–cluster-centric-radius relation in the SDSS data for both of our automated morphological classifiers, Cin and Tauto, as fractions of early-type galaxies increase and late-type galaxies decrease toward increasing local galaxy density. In addition, we found that there are two characteristic changes in both the morphology–density and the morphology–radius relations, suggesting that two different mechanisms are responsible for the relations. In the sparsest regions (below 1 Mpc−2 or outside of 1 virial radius), both relations become less noticeable, suggesting that the physical mechanisms responsible for galaxy morphological change require a denser environment. In the intermediate-density regions (density between 1 and 6 Mpc−2 or virial radius between 0.3 and 1), intermediate-type fractions increase toward denser regions, whereas late-disc fractions decrease. Considering that the median size of intermediate-type galaxies is smaller than that of late-disc galaxies, we propose that the mechanism is likely to stop star formation in late-disc galaxies, eventually turning them into intermediate-type galaxies after their outer discs and spiral arms become invisible as stars die. For example, ram-pressure stripping is one of the candidate mechanisms. In the densest regions (above 6 Mpc−2 or inside 0.3 virial radii), intermediate-type fractions decrease radically and early-type fractions increase in turn. This is a contrasting result to that in intermediate regions and it suggests that yet another mechanism is more responsible for the morphological change in these regions.

We also compared the morphology–density relation from the SDSS (0.01 < z < 0.054) with that of the MORPHS data (z ∼ 0.5). Two relations lie on top of each other, suggesting that the morphology–density relation was already established at z∼ 0.5 as in the present Universe. A slight sign of an excess elliptical/S0 fraction in the SDSS data in dense regions might suggest the additional formation of elliptical/S0 galaxies in the cluster core regions between z= 0.5 and 0.05.

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