Mid-Infrared Observation of Mass Loss in Elliptical Galaxies

The Astrophysical Journal (Impact Factor: 6.73). 12/2008; 571(1):272. DOI: 10.1086/339844
Source: arXiv

ABSTRACT Early-type galaxies exhibit thermal and molecular resonance emission from dust that is shed and heated through stellar mass loss as a subset of the population moves through the asymptotic giant branch (AGB) phase of evolution. Because this emission can give direct insight into stellar evolution in addition to galactic stellar mass loss and interstellar medium injection rates, we conducted a program to search for this signature emission with CAM on the Infrared Space Observatory. We obtained 6-15 μm imaging observations in six narrow bands for nine elliptical galaxies; every galaxy is detected in every band. For wavelengths shorter than 9 μm, the spectra are well matched by a blackbody originating from the K and M stars that dominate the integrated light of elliptical galaxies. At wavelengths between 9 and 15 μm, however, the galaxies display excess emission relative to the stellar photospheric radiation. Additional data taken with the fine-resolution circular variable filter on one source clearly shows broad emission from 9 to 15 μm, peaking around 10 μm. This result is consistent with the known broad silicate feature at 9.7 μm originating in the circumstellar envelopes of AGB stars. This emission is compared with studies of Galactic and Large Magellanic Cloud AGB stars to derive cumulative mass-loss rates. In general, these mass-loss rates agree with the expected ~0.8 M☉ yr-1 value predicted by stellar evolutionary models. Both the photospheric and circumstellar envelope emission follow a de Vaucouleurs R1/4 law, supporting the conclusion that the mid-infrared excess emission originates in the stellar component of the galaxies and acts as a tracer of AGB mass loss and mass injection into the interstellar medium.

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