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Keywords:

  • ISM: lines and bands;
  • galaxies: evolution;
  • galaxies: spiral;
  • galaxies: stellar content

ABSTRACT

We present here a new set of evolutionary population synthesis models for template galaxies along the Hubble morphological sequence. The models, which account for the individual evolution of the bulge, disc, and halo components, provide basic morphological features, along with bolometric luminosity and colour evolution (including Johnson/Cousins, Gunn g, r, i, and Washington C, M, T1, T2 photometric systems) between 1 and 15 Gyr. The luminosity contribution from residual gas is also evaluated, both in terms of nebular continuum and Balmer-line enhancement.

Our theoretical framework relies on the observed colours of present-day galaxies, coupled with a minimal set of physical assumptions related to simple stellar population (SSP) evolution theory, to constrain the overall distinctive properties of galaxies at earlier epochs. A comparison with more elaborate photometric models, and with empirical sets of reference spectral energy distributions (SEDs) for early- and late-type galaxies is accomplished, in order to test output reliability and investigate the internal uncertainty of the models.

The match with observed colours of present-day galaxies tightly constrain the stellar birth rate, b, which smoothly increases from E to Im types. The comparison with the observed supernova (SN) rate in low-redshift galaxies shows, as well, a pretty good agreement, and allows us to tune up the inferred star formation activity and the SN and hypernova rates among the different galaxy morphological types. Among others, these results could find useful application also in cosmological studies, given for instance the claimed relationship between hypernova events and gamma-ray bursts.

One outstanding feature of the back-in-time evolution model is the prevailing luminosity contribution of the bulge at early epochs. As a consequence, the current morphological look of galaxies might drastically change when moving to larger distances, and we discuss here how sensibly this bias could affect the observation (and the interpretation) of high-redshift surveys.

In addition to broad-band colours, the modelling of Balmer line emission in disc-dominated systems shows that striking emission lines, like Hα, can very effectively track stellar birth rate in a galaxy. For these features to be useful age tracers as well, however, one should first assess the real change of b versus time on the basis of supplementary (and physically independent) arguments.