Exploring the star formation histories of galaxies
In this thesis, I explore the star formation histories of both spiral and elliptical galaxies. In Part 1,1 present an in-depth study of the star formation histories of spiral galaxies with a wide range of properties. Optical and near-infrared colours are used in conjunction with up-to-date stellar population synthesis models to constrain the ages and metallicities of my sample galaxies. I find that age and metallicity gradients are common in spiral galaxies of all types. The age of a spiral galaxy correlates mainly with its surface brightness, and its metallicity correlates strongly with both its surface brightness and absolute magnitude. Using simple models, I demonstrate that the correlations observed in this thesis show that the star formation history of a region within a galaxy depends primarily on its surface density, and possibly on the dynamical time. Metal- enriched outflow from low mass galaxies seems to be required to reproduce a reasonably strong metallicity-magnitude correlation. These variations in star formation history are a continuous function of the physical parameters: in particular, I find no evidence for a bimodal spiral galaxy surface brightness distribution. In Part 2, I present a short study on the formation epoch of early-type galaxies. I developed a photometric redshift estimator optimised for redshifts z ~ 1. The redshift estimator provides redshifts accurate to ~ 10 per cent. This redshift estimator is then applied to a sample of morphologically-selected early-type galaxies in the northern Hubble Deep Field. Comparison of their colour-magnitude relation with a passively evolved Coma cluster colour-magnitude relation indicates that over half of the sample must form at redshifts greater than two.