Spectral gradients in central cluster galaxies: further evidence of star formation in cooling flows

Research paper by N. Cardiel, J. Gorgas, A. Aragon-Salamanca

Indexed on: 23 Apr '98Published on: 23 Apr '98Published in: Astrophysics


We have obtained radial gradients in the spectral features D4000 and Mg2 for a sample of 11 central cluster galaxies (CCGs). The new data strongly confirm the correlations between line-strength indices and the cooling flow phenomenon found in our earlier study. We find that such correlations depend on the presence and characteristics of emission lines in the inner regions of the CCGs. CCGs in cooling flow clusters exhibit a clear sequence in the D4000-Mg2 plane, with a neat segregation depending on emission-line types and blue morphology. This sequence can be modelled, using stellar population models with a normal IMF, by a recent burst of star formation. In CCGs with emission lines, the gradients in the spectral indices are flat or positive inside the emission-line regions, suggesting the presence of young stars. Outside the emission-line regions, and in cooling flow galaxies without emission lines, gradients are negative and consistent with those measured in CCGs in clusters without cooling flows and giant elliptical galaxies. Index gradients measured exclusively in the emission-line region correlate with mass deposition rate. We have also estimated the radial profiles of the mass transformed into new stars which are remarkably parallel to the radial behaviour of the mass deposition rate. A large fraction (probably most) of the cooling flow gas accreted into the emission-line region is converted into stars. We discuss the evolutionary sequence suggested by McNamara (1997), in which radio triggered star formation bursts take place several times during the lifetime of the cooling flow. This scenario is consistent with the available observations.