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Keywords:

  • galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD;
  • galaxies: evolution;
  • galaxies: ISM;
  • galaxies: kinematics and dynamics;
  • galaxies: stellar content

ABSTRACT

We present new mm interferometric and optical integral-field unit (IFU) observations and construct a sample of 12 elliptical (E) and lenticular (S0) galaxies with molecular gas which have both CO and optical maps. The galaxies contain 2 × 107 to 5 × 109 M of molecular gas distributed primarily in central discs or rings (radii 0.5–4 kpc). The molecular gas distributions are always coincident with distributions of optically obscuring dust that reveal tightly wound spiral structures in many cases. The ionized gas always approximately corotates with the molecular gas, evidencing a link between these two gas components, yet star formation is not always the dominant ionization source. The galaxies with less molecular gas tend to have [O iii]/Hβ emission-line ratios at high values not expected for star formation. Most E/S0s with molecular gas have young or intermediate-age stellar populations based on optical colours, ultraviolet colours and absorption linestrengths. The few that appear purely old lie close to the limit where such populations would be undetectable based on the mass fractions of expected young to observed old stars. The 8 μm polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) and 24 μm emission yield similar star formation rate (SFR) estimates of E/S0s, but the total infrared overpredicts the rate due to a contribution to dust heating from older stars. The radio–far-infrared relation also has much more scatter than for other star-forming galaxies. However, despite these biases and additional scatter, the derived star formation rates locate the E/S0 galaxies within the large range of the Schmidt–Kennicutt and constant efficiency star formation laws. Thus, the star formation process in E/S0s is not overwhelmingly different than in other star-forming galaxies, although one of the more reliable tracers (24 μm) points to a possible lower star formation efficiency at a given gas surface density.