Red mergers and the assembly of massive elliptical galaxies: The fundamental plane and its projections

Michael Boylan-Kolchin, Chung Pei Ma, Eliot Quataert

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183 Scopus citations


Several recent observations suggest that gas-poor (dissipationless) mergers of elliptical galaxies contribute significantly to the build-up of the massive end of the red sequence at z ≲ 1. We perform a series of major merger simulations to investigate the spatial and velocity structure of the remnants of such mergers. Regardless of orbital energy or angular momentum, we find that the stellar remnants lie on the fundamental plane defined by their progenitors, a result of virial equilibrium with a small tilt due to an increasing central dark matter fraction. However, the locations of merger remnants in the projections of the fundamental plane - the Faber-Jackson and R e-M* relations - depend strongly on the merger orbit, and the relations steepen significantly from the canonical scalings ( and ) for mergers on radial orbits. This steepening arises because stellar bulges on orbits with lower angular momentum lose less energy via dynamical friction on the dark matter haloes than do bulges on orbits with substantial angular momentum. This results in a less tightly bound remnant bulge with a smaller velocity dispersion and a larger effective radius. Our results imply that the projections of the fundamental plane - but not necessarily the plane itself - provide a powerful way of investigating the assembly history of massive elliptical galaxies, including the brightest cluster galaxies at or near the centres of galaxy clusters. We argue that most massive ellipticals are formed by anisotropic merging and that their fundamental plane projections should thus differ noticeably from those of lower mass ellipticals even though they should lie on the same fundamental plane. Current observations are consistent with this conclusion. The steepening in the L-σe relation for luminous ellipticals may also be reflected in a corresponding steepening in the M BHe relation for massive black holes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1081-1089
Number of pages9
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2006
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD
  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: formation
  • Galaxies: fundamental parameters


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