Clumpy galaxies in goods and gems: Massive analogs of local dwarf irregulars

Debra Meloy Elmegreen, Bruce G. Elmegreen, Max T. Marcus, Karlen Shahinyan, Andrew Yau, Michael Petersen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

133 Scopus citations


Clumpy galaxies in the Galaxy Evolution from Morphology and SEDs and Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey fields are examined for clues to their evolution into modern spirals. The magnitudes of the clumps and the surface brightnesses of the interclump regions are measured and fitted to models of stellar age and mass. There is an evolutionary trend from clump clusters with no evident interclump emission to clump clusters with faint red disks, to spiral galaxies of the flocculent or grand design types. Along this sequence, the interclump surface density increases and the mass surface density contrast between the clumps and the interclump regions decreases, suggesting a gradual dispersal of clumps to form disks. Also along this sequence, the bulge-to-clump mass ratios and age ratios increase, suggesting a gradual formation of bulges. All of these morphological types occur in the same redshift range, indicating that the clump cluster morphology is not the result of bandshifting. This redshift range also includes clear examples of interacting galaxies with tidal tails and other characteristic features, indicating that clump clusters, which do not have these features, are not generally interacting. Comparisons to local galaxies with the same rest wavelength and spatial resolution show that clump clusters are unlike local flocculent and spiral galaxies primarily because of the high clump/interclump contrasts in the clump clusters. They bear a striking resemblance to local dwarf irregulars, however. This resemblance is consistent with a model in which the clumpy morphology comes from gravitational instabilities in gas with a high turbulent speed compared to the rotation speed and a high mass fraction compared to the stars. The morphology does not depend on galaxy mass as much as it depends on evolutionary stage: clump clusters are 100 times more massive than local dwarfs. The apparent lack of star formation in damped Lyman alpha absorbers may result from fast turbulence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)306-329
Number of pages24
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009


  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: high-redshift
  • Galaxies: irregular
  • Galaxies: peculiar
  • Galaxies: starburst

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