The SAURON project - XI. Stellar populations from absorption-line strength maps of 24 early-type spirals

Reynier F. Peletier*, Jesús Falcón-Barroso, Roland Bacon, Michele Cappellari, Roger L. Davies, P. T. De Zeeuw, Eric Emsellem, Katia Ganda, Davor Krajnović, Harald Kuntschner, Richard M. McDermid, Marc Sarzi, Glenn Van De Ven

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Citations (Scopus)


We present absorption-line strength maps of a sample of 24 representative early-type spiral galaxies, mostly of type Sa, obtained as part of the SAURON (Spectrographic Areal Unit for Research on Optical Nebulae) survey of nearby galaxies using our custom-built integral-field spectrograph. Using high-quality spectra, spatially binned to a constant signal-to-noise ratio, we measure several key age, metallicity and abundance ratio sensitive indices from the Lick Observatory Image Dissector Scanner (Lick/IDS) system over a contiguous two-dimensional field including bulge and inner disc. We present maps of Hβ, Fe 5015 and Mg b for each galaxy. We find that Sa galaxies on the average have slightly smaller Mg b and Fe 5015 line strengths than ellipticals and S0s, and higher Hβ values, but with a much larger scatter. The absorption-line maps show that many galaxies contain some younger populations (≤1 Gyr), distributed in small or large inner discs, or in circumnuclear star-forming rings. In many cases these young stars are formed in circumnuclear ministarbursts, which are dominating the light in the centres of some of the early-type spirals. These ministarburst cause a considerable scatter in index-index diagrams such as Mg b-Hβ and Mg b-Fe 5015, more than is measured for early-type galaxies. We find that the central regions of Sa galaxies display a wide range in ages, even within the galaxies. We find that the central regions of early-type spirals are often dusty, with a good correlation between the presence of young central stellar populations and a significant amount of dust extinction. 50 per cent of the sample show velocity dispersion drops in their centres. All of the galaxies of our sample lie on or below the Mg b -σ relation for elliptical galaxies in the Coma cluster, and above the Hβ absorption line-σ relation for elliptical galaxies. If those relations are considered to be relations for the oldest local galaxies we see that our sample of spirals has a considerable scatter in age, with the largest scatter at the lowest σ. This is in disagreement with highly inclined samples, in which generally only old stellar populations are found in the central regions. The discrepancy between our sample and highly inclined samples, and the presence of so many stellar velocity dispersion dips, i.e. so-called σ drops, in these spiral galaxies with large bulges (type Sa) can be understood if the central regions of Sa galaxies contain at least two components: a thin, disc-like component, often containing recent star formation, and another, elliptical-like component, consisting of old stars and rotating more slowly, dominating the light above the plane. These components together form the photometrically defined bulge, in the same way as the thin and the thick disc co-exist in the solar neighbourhood. In this picture, consistent with the current literature, part of the bulge, the thicker component, formed a very long time ago. Later, stars continued to form in the central regions of the disc, rejuvenating in this way the bulge through dynamical processes. This picture is able to explain in a natural way the heterogeneous stellar populations and star formation characteristics that we are seeing in detailed observations of early-type spiral galaxies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)445-468
Number of pages24
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Galaxies: bulges
  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: formation
  • Galaxies: kinematics and dynamics
  • Galaxies: spiral
  • Galaxies: structure

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