The Recent Formation of Low-Mass Galaxies in the Virgo Cluster

Authors:C. Conselice, J. Gallagher, R. Wyse, K. O'Neil

Published:2003, Accepted by ApJ


We present in this paper the deepest Arecibo HI observations of Virgo cluster dwarf ellipticals (dEs) taken to date. Based on this data we argue that a significant fraction of Virgo cluster dEs recently underwent evolution. Our new observations consist of HI 21-cm line observations for 22 classified dE galaxies with optical radial velocities consistent with membership in the Virgo cluster. Cluster members VCC 390 and VCC 1713 are detected with HI masses M(HI) = 6*107 M_solar and 8*17 Msolar, respectively, while M(HI) in the remaining 20 dE galaxies have upper limits as low as 5*105 solar. We combine our results with those for 27 other Virgo cluster dEs with HI observations in the literature, 7 of which have HI detection claims. New optical images from the WIYN telescope of 5 of these HI-detected dEs, along with archival data, suggest that seven of the claimed detections are real, yielding a ~15% detection rate. These HI-detected classified dEs are preferentially located near the periphery of the Virgo cluster. Three Virgo dEs have observed HI velocity widths > 200 km/s, possibly indicating the presence of a large dark matter content, or transient extended HI. We discuss the possible origins of these objects and argue that they originate from field galaxies accreted onto high angular momentum orbits by Virgo in the last few Gyr. As a result these galaxies are slowly transformed within the cluster by gradual gas stripping processes, associated truncation of star formation, and passive fading of stellar populations. Low-mass early-type cluster galaxies are therefore currently being produced as the product of cluster environmental effects. We utilize our results to estimate the recent (past 1-3 Gyr) average mass accretion rate into the Virgo cluster, finding dM/dt~50 Msolar/year.

Postscript verion of the paper available here