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Population gradients in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Galaxy Catalogue: the role of merging




We investigate the role of the environment on the colour and stellar population gradients in a local sample of ∼3500 central and ∼1150 satellite Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) early-type galaxies. The environment is parametrized in terms of the number of satellite galaxies, Ngal, in each group. For central galaxies, we find that both optical colour and mass-to-light (M/L) ratio gradients are shallower in central galaxies residing in denser environments (higher Ngal). This trend is driven by metallicity gradients, while age gradients appear to be less dependent on the environment and to have a larger scatter. On the other hand, satellites do not show any differences in terms of the environment. The same results are found if galaxies are classified by central age, and both central and satellite galaxies have shallower gradients if they are older and steeper gradients if younger, satellites being independent of ages. In central galaxies, we show that the observed trends can be explained with the occurrence of dry mergings, which are more numerous in denser environments and producing shallower colour gradients because of more uniform metallicity distributions due to the mixing of stellar populations, while no final clues about merging occurrence can be obtained for satellites. Finally, we discuss all systematics on stellar population fitting and their impact on the final results.