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Published September 20, 2010 | Published
Journal Article Open

Mass and Environment as Drivers of Galaxy Evolution in SDSS and zCOSMOS and the Origin of the Schechter Function


We explore the simple inter-relationships between mass, star formation rate, and environment in the SDSS, zCOSMOS, and other deep surveys. We take a purely empirical approach in identifying those features of galaxy evolution that are demanded by the data and then explore the analytic consequences of these. We show that the differential effects of mass and environment are completely separable to z ~ 1, leading to the idea of two distinct processes of "mass quenching" and "environment quenching." The effect of environment quenching, at fixed over-density, evidently does not change with epoch to z ~ 1 in zCOSMOS, suggesting that the environment quenching occurs as large-scale structure develops in the universe, probably through the cessation of star formation in 30%-70% of satellite galaxies. In contrast, mass quenching appears to be a more dynamic process, governed by a quenching rate. We show that the observed constancy of the Schechter M* and α_s for star-forming galaxies demands that the quenching of galaxies around and above M* must follow a rate that is statistically proportional to their star formation rates (or closely mimic such a dependence). We then postulate that this simple mass-quenching law in fact holds over a much broader range of stellar mass (2 dex) and cosmic time. We show that the combination of these two quenching processes, plus some additional quenching due to merging naturally produces (1) a quasi-static single Schechter mass function for star-forming galaxies with an exponential cutoff at a value M* that is set uniquely by the constant of proportionality between the star formation and mass quenching rates and (2) a double Schechter function for passive galaxies with two components. The dominant component (at high masses) is produced by mass quenching and has exactly the same M* as the star-forming galaxies but a faint end slope that differs by Δα_s ~ 1. The other component is produced by environment effects and has the same M* and α_s as the star-forming galaxies but an amplitude that is strongly dependent on environment. Subsequent merging of quenched galaxies will modify these predictions somewhat in the denser environments, mildly increasing M* and making α_s slightly more negative. All of these detailed quantitative inter-relationships between the Schechter parameters of the star-forming and passive galaxies, across a broad range of environments, are indeed seen to high accuracy in the SDSS, lending strong support to our simple empirically based model. We find that the amount of post-quenching "dry merging" that could have occurred is quite constrained. Our model gives a prediction for the mass function of the population of transitory objects that are in the process of being quenched. Our simple empirical laws for the cessation of star formation in galaxies also naturally produce the "anti-hierarchical" run of mean age with mass for passive galaxies, as well as the qualitative variation of formation timescale indicated by the relative α-element abundances.

Additional Information

© 2010 The American Astronomical Society. Received 2010 March 22; accepted 2010 July 2; published 2010 August 26. Based on observations undertaken at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) under Large Program 175.A-0839. Also based on observations with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, obtained at the Space Telescope Science Institute, operated by AURA Inc., under NASA contract NAS 5-26555, with the Subaru Telescope, operated by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, with the telescopes of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA) under cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation, and with the Canada–France–Hawaii Telescope, operated by the National Research Council of Canada, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique de France and the University of Hawaii. The zCOSMOS survey was undertaken at the ESO VLT as Large Program 175.A-0839. We gratefully acknowledge the work of many individuals, not appearing as authors of this paper, whosework has enabled large surveys such as COSMOS and the SDSS. We also thank Sebastiano Cantalupo for a very helpful and critical reading of an earlier draft of this paper, and the anonymous referee for a helpful and sympathetic reading. We gratefully acknowledge NASA's IDL Astronomy Users Library, the IDL code base maintained by D. Schlegel, the kcorrect package of M. Blanton, and the star formation rates from J. Brinchmann taken from the MPA Web site. This work was supported in part by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

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