Compact groups, with their high number densities, small velocity dispersions, and an interstellar medium that has not been fully processed, provide a local analog to conditions of galaxy interactions in the earlier universe. The frequent and prolonged gravitational encounters that occur in compact groups affect the evolution of the constituent galaxies in a myriad of ways, for example, gas processing and star formation. Recently, a statistically significant "gap" has been discovered in the mid-infrared (MIR: 3.6-8μm) IRAC color space of compact group galaxies. This gap is not seen in field samples and is a new example of how the compact group environment may affect the evolution of member galaxies. In order to investigate the origin and nature of this gap, we have compiled a larger sample of 37 compact groups in addition to the original 12 groups studied by Johnson et al. (yielding 174 individual galaxies with reliable MIR photometry). We find that a statistically significant deficit of galaxies in this gap region of IRAC color space is persistent in the full sample, lending support to the hypothesis that the compact group environment inhibits moderate specific star formation rates. Using this expanded sample, we have more fully characterized the distribution of galaxies in this color space and quantified the low-density region more fully with respect to MIR bluer and MIR redder colors. We note a curvature in the color-space distribution, which is fully consistent with increasing dust temperature as the activity in a galaxy increases. This full sample of 49 compact groups allows us to subdivide the data according to physical properties of the groups. An analysis of these subsamples indicates that neither projected physical diameter nor density shows a trend in color space within the values represented by this sample. We hypothesize that the apparent lack of a trend is due to the relatively small range of properties in this sample, whose groups have already been pre-selected to be compact and dense. Thus, the relative influence of stochastic effects (such as the particular distribution and amount of star formation in individual galaxies) becomes dominant. We analyze spectral energy distributions of member galaxies as a function of their location in color space and find that galaxies in different regions of MIR color space contain dust with varying temperatures and/or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon emission.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science