Compact high-redshift galaxies are the cores of the most massive present-day spheroids

Philip F. Hopkins, Kevin Bundy, Norman Murray, Eliot Quataert, Tod R. Lauer, Chung Pei Ma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

227 Scopus citations


Observations suggest that the effective radii of high-redshift massive spheroids are as much as a factor of ∼6 smaller than low-redshift galaxies of comparable mass. Given the apparent absence of low-redshift counterparts, this has often been interpreted as indicating that the high-density, compact red galaxies must be 'puffed up' by some mechanism. We compare the ensemble of high-redshift observations with large samples of well-observed, low-redshift ellipticals. At the same physical radii, the stellar surface mass densities of low- and high-redshift systems are comparable. Moreover, the abundance of high surface density material at low redshift is comparable to or larger than that observed at z > 1-2, consistent with the continuous buildup of spheroids over this time. The entire population of compact, high-redshift red galaxies may be the progenitors of the high-density cores of present-day ellipticals, with no need for a decrease in stellar density from z = 2 to 0. The primary difference between low- and high-redshift systems is thus the observed low-density material at large radii in low-redshift spheroids (rather than the high-density material in high-redshift spheroids). Such low-density material may either (1) assemble at z < 2 or (2) be present, but not yet detected, at z > 2. Mock observations of low-redshift massive systems suggest that the amount of low-density material at high redshifts is indeed significantly less than that at z = 0. However, deeper observations will be important in constraining the exact amount (or lack thereof) and distribution of this material, and how it builds up with redshift. We show that, without deep observations, the full extent of such material even at low redshifts can be difficult to determine, in particular if the mass profile is not exactly a single Sersic profile. We discuss the implications of our results for physical models of galaxy evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)898-910
Number of pages13
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Cosmology: theory
  • Galaxies: active
  • Galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD
  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: formation


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