Gas Mass Fractions and Star Formation in Blue-Sequence E/S0 Galaxies

Wei, L. H.
Kannappan, S. J.
Vogel, S. N.
Baker, A. J.
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Recent work has identified a population of low-redshift E/S0 galaxies that lie on the blue sequence in color vs. stellar mass parameter space, where spiral galaxies typically reside. While high-mass blue-sequence E/S0s often resemble young merger or interaction remnants likely to fade to the red sequence, we focus on blue-sequence E/S0s with lower stellar masses (< a few 10^10 M_sun), which are characterized by fairly regular morphologies and low-density field environments where fresh gas infall is possible. This population may provide an evolutionary link between early-type galaxies and spirals through disk regrowth. Focusing on atomic gas reservoirs, we present new GBT HI data for 27 E/S0s on both sequences as well as a complete tabulation of archival HI data for other galaxies in the Nearby Field Galaxy Survey. Normalized to stellar mass, the atomic gas masses for 12 of the 14 blue-sequence E/S0s range from 0.1 to >1.0. These gas-to-stellar mass ratios are comparable to those of spiral and irregular galaxies and have a similar dependence on stellar mass. Assuming that the HI is accessible for star formation, we find that many of our blue-sequence E/S0s can increase in stellar mass by 10-60% in 3 Gyr in both of two limiting scenarios, exponentially declining star formation and constant star formation. In a constant star formation scenario, about half of the blue-sequence E/S0s require fresh gas infall on a timescale of <3 Gyr to avoid exhausting their atomic gas reservoirs and evolving to the red sequence. We present evidence that star formation in these galaxies is bursty and likely involves externally triggered gas inflows. Our analysis suggests that most blue-sequence E/S0s are indeed capable of substantial stellar disk growth on relatively short timescales. (abridged)
Comment: ApJ, accepted, 26 pages with 12 figures (5 color), 5 tables
Astrophysics - Cosmology and Nongalactic Astrophysics