Structure of disk-dominated galaxies. II. Color gradients and stellar population models

Lauren A. Macarthur, Stéphane Courteau, Eric Bell, Jon A. Holtzman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

178 Scopus citations


We investigate optical and near-IR color gradients in a sample of 172 low-inclination galaxies spanning Hubble types S0-Irr. The colors are compared with stellar population synthesis models from which luminosity-weighted average ages and metallicities are determined. We explore the effects of different underlying star formation histories and additional bursts of star formation. Our results are robust in a relative sense under the assumption that our galaxies shared a similar underlying star formation history and that no bursts involving more than ∼10% of the galaxy mass have occurred in the past 1-2 Gyr. Because the observed gradients show radial structure, we measure "inner" and "outer" disk age and metallicity gradients. Trends in age and metallicity and their gradients are explored as a function of Hubble type, rotational velocity, total near-IR galaxy magnitude, central surface brightness, and scale length. We find strong correlations in age and metallicity with Hubble type, rotational velocity, total magnitude, and central surface brightness in the sense that earlier-type, faster rotating, more luminous, and higher surface brightness galaxies are older and more metal-rich, suggesting an early and more rapid star formation history for these galaxies. The increasing trends with rotational velocity and total magnitude level off for V rot ≳ 120 km s -1 and M K ≲ -23 mag, respectively. This effect is stronger for metallicity (than age), which could reflect a threshold potential above which all metals are retained and thus metallicity saturates at the yield. Outer disk gradients are found to be weaker than the inner gradients as expected for a slower variation of the potential and surface brightness in the outer parts. We find that stronger age gradients are associated with weaker metallicity gradients. Trends in gradients with galaxy parameters are compared with model predictions: these trends do not agree with predictions of semianalytic models of hierarchical galaxy formation, possibly owing to the effect of bar-induced radial flows. The observed trends are in agreement with chemo-spectrophotometric models of spiral galaxy evolution based on CDM-motivated scaling laws but none of the hierarchical merging characteristics, implying a strong dependence of the star formation history of spiral galaxies on the galaxy potential and halo spin parameter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-199
Number of pages25
JournalAstrophysical Journal, Supplement Series
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2004
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Galaxies: abundances
  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: photometry
  • Galaxies: spiral
  • Galaxies: structure


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