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Title: Galaxy evolution and the redshift desert
Author: Kotulla, Ralf Christian
Awarding Body: University of Hertfordshire
Current Institution: University of Hertfordshire
Date of Award: 2011
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This thesis explores the evolution of galaxies from the onset of star formation shortly after the Big Bang until the present day. Particular emphasis lies on the redshift range z = 1.4 2.5, the so-called “redshift desert”, as it coincides with the peak epoch of cosmic star formation activity and mass assembly. Most of the information about galaxies and their evolution arrives in the form of their integrated light, i.e. the conglomeration of light emitted by stars of various ages and metallicities. In order to interpret the observed spectra and magnitudes, and to extract the physical parameters we therefore require models. This holds true in particular for galaxies too faint to target them spectroscopically, and for which redshifts and physical parameters derived from only their photometry is the only feasible way to study them in more detail. This thesis is concerned with such models, and describes how GALEV evolutionary synthesis models describe the spectral and chemical evolution of galaxies, accounting for gaseous emission and the increasing initial abundances of successive stellar generations, how they compare to observations and what we can learn from their application. Based on a large model grid, covering all observed galaxy evolution stages, I find that sub-solar metallicities have significant impact on the spectra of galaxies, and can lead to systematic errors and biases if not accounted for. A comparison of models with different metallicities furthermore reveals that photometric redshifts are also systematically biased if sub-solar metallicities are not properly accounted for. I also note that even a small mass-fractions of young stars can dominate the overall spectrum, leading to a large underestimation of the mass and age of the stellar population. The models explain not only the colour evolution of galaxies observed at a range of redshifts, but also their physical parameters. I show that with magnitudes in only a few bands we can successfully explain not only the masses of galaxies, but also their star formation rates and, where available from observations, their metallicities. If additional data are available, the grid of models can be used to refine colour selection criteria and to break degeneracies, e.g. between dust-reddened actively star-forming galaxies and intrinsically old, passively evolving galaxies. Using GAZELLE, a photometric redshift code that is purpose-tailored to harmonise with these models, I can extract accurate redshifts and a wealth of physical parameters from the largest ever sample of observed multi-wavelength photometry of galaxies. I then compare our findings with semi-analytical models that trace the evolution of individual galaxies based on cosmological simulations. In my sample I find a significant population of high-mass galaxies that is not accounted for by this class of models. Furthermore a small percentage of massive, yet starforming galaxies challenges our idea on how these galaxies form and evolve. In an appendix to this thesis I present a complementary approach to reconstruct the evolution of galaxies, using star clusters as tracers. I introduce a new technique to break the age-metallicity degeneracy and obtain individual ages and metallicities for a sample of globular clusters, revealing a merger of two Sb/Sc-type spirals 2 Gyrs ago in NGC 4570, a lenticular galaxy in the Virgo cluster. Also in the appendix I show that, at least in the studied galaxy Arp 78, the initial mass function conforms with our assumptions and does not change in low-density environments as recently predicted. Although studies of galaxy evolution are a major field in astronomy, there is still a lot more to be done to reveal the inner workings of these island universes, and this thesis also addresses how to continue and improve the work presented herein.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: astronomy ; astrophysics ; galaxies ; galaxy evolution ; high redshift universe ; star clusters ; population synthesis ; photometric redshifts