Evolutionary paths among different red galaxy types at 0.3 < z < 1.5 and the late buildup of massive E-S0's through major mergers

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Some recent observations seem to disagree with hierarchical theories of galaxy formation about the role played by major mergers in the late buildup of massive E-S0s. We re-address this question by analysing the morphology, structural distortion level and star formation enhancement of a sample of massive galaxies (M_* > 5x10^10M_⨀) lying on the Red Sequence and its surroundings at 0.3 < z < 1.5. We have used an initial sample of ∼1800 sources with K_s < 20.5 mag over an area ∼155 arcmin^2 on the Groth Strip, combining data from the Rainbow Extragalactic Database and the Galaxy Origins and Young Assembly survey. Red galaxy classes that can be directly associated with intermediate stages of major mergers and with their final products have been defined. We report observational evidence of the existence of a dominant evolutionary path among massive red galaxies at 0.6 < z < 1.5, consisting in the conversion of irregular discs into irregular spheroids, and of these ones into regular spheroids. This result implies: (1) the massive red regular galaxies at low redshifts derive from the irregular ones populating the Red Sequence and its neighbourhood at earlier epochs up to z ∼ 1.5; (2) the progenitors of the bulk of present-day massive red regular galaxies have been discs that seem to have migrated to the Red Sequence mostly through major mergers at 0.6 < z < 1.2 (these mergers thus starting at z ∼ 1.5) and (3) the formation of E-S0s that end up with M_* > 10^11 M_⨀ at z = 0 through gas-rich major mergers has frozen since z similar to 0.6. All these facts support that major mergers have played a dominant role in the definitive buildup of present-day E-S0s with M-* > 10(11) M-circle dot at 0.6 < z < 1.2, in good agreement with hierarchical scenarios of galaxy formation.
© 2000 RAS. The authors thank the anonymous referee for the provided input that helped to improve this publication significantly. We also thank M. Bernardi, N. Deveraux, S. di Serego Alighieri, B. Rothberg and D. Sobral for interesting and useful discussions on the topic. This work is supported by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (MICINN) under projects AYA2009-10368, AYA2006-12955 and AYA2009-11137, and by the Madrid Regional Government through the AstroMadrid Project (CAM S2009/ESP-1496, This work is funded by the Spanish MICINN under the Consolider-Ingenio 2010 Program grant CSD2006-00070: 'First Science with the GTC' ( This work is based on observations made with the Isaac Newton and Willian Herschel Telescope operated on the island of La Palma by the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes in the Spanish Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias. Some of the data presented herein are part of the DEEP2 survey, funded by NSF grants AST95-09298, AST-0071048, AST-0071198, AST-0507428 and AST-0507483, as well as NASA LTSA grant NNG04GC89G. This work is based in part on services provided by the GAVO data center. S.D.H. & G.
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