We have tested the effect of spatial gradients in stellar mass-to-light ratio (Υ) on measurements of black hole masses (M•) derived from stellar orbit superposition models. Such models construct a static gravitational potential for a galaxy and its central black hole, but typically assume spatially uniform Υ. We have modeled three giant elliptical galaxies with gradients α ≡ dlog (Υ)/dlog (r) from -0.2 to +0.1. Color and line strength gradients suggest mildly negative α in these galaxies. Introducing a negative (positive) gradient in Υ increases (decreases) the enclosed stellar mass near the center of the galaxy and leads to systematically smaller (larger) M• measurements. For models with α = -0.2, the best-fit values of M• are 28%, 27%, and 17% lower than the constant-Υ case, in NGC 3842, NGC 6086, and NGC 7768, respectively. For α = +0.1, M• are 14%, 22%, and 17% higher than the constant-Υ case for the three respective galaxies. For NGC 3842 and NGC 6086, this bias is comparable to the statistical errors from individual modeling trials. At larger radii, negative (positive) gradients in Υ cause the total stellar mass to decrease (increase) and the dark matter fraction within one effective radius to increase (decrease).
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science
- galaxies: kinematics and dynamics