Probing recent star formation with absorption-line strengths in hierarchical models and observations

Trager, S. C.
Somerville, R. S.
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Stellar population parameters derived from spectral line-strengths provide a powerful probe of galaxy properties and formation histories. We implement the machinery for extracting single-stellar-population-equivalent stellar population parameters from synthetic spectra generated by a hierarchical galaxy formation model. We find that the SSP-equivalent age is related to the light-weighted age in a complicated fashion that reflects the influence of recently-formed stars and is poorly correlated with the mass-weighted age. The tendency for SSP-equivalent ages to be biased young means that archaeological downsizing overstates the mass-weighted downsizing in age with mass. We find that the SSP-equivalent metallicity closely tracks the mass- and light-weighted metallicities, so that observed mass--metallicity relations for old galaxies closely reflect the underlying trends. We construct mock catalogues of early-type galaxies in a Coma cluster-sized halo and compare them directly to observations of early-type galaxies in the Coma cluster. The similarity of the SSP-equivalent ages in the observational samples and the mock catalogues gives us confidence that the star-formation quenching implemented in the hierarchical galaxy formation model produces roughly the correct amount of recent star formation. The SSP-equivalent metallicities are however too low and have the wrong slope as a function of velocity dispersion, and the SSP-equivalent ages of the model galaxies may have an incorrect slope as a function of velocity dispersion. (Abridged)
Comment: Accepted for publication in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 17 pages
Astrophysics - Cosmology and Nongalactic Astrophysics