Composite star formation histories of early-type galaxies from minor mergers : prospects for WFC3
The star formation history of nearby early-type galaxies is investigated via numerical modelling. Idealized hydrodynamical N-body simulations with a star formation prescription are used to study the minor merger process (1/10 ≤ M/M ≤ 1/4; M ≤ M) between a giant galaxy (host) and a less massive spiral galaxy (satellite) with reasonable assumptions for the ages and metallicities of the merger progenitors. We find that the evolution of the star formation rate is extended over several dynamical times and shows peaks which correspond to pericentre passages of the satellite. The newly formed stars are mainly located in the central part of the satellite remnant while the older stars of the initial disc are deposited at larger radii in shell-like structures. After the final plunge of the satellite, star formation in the central part of the remnant can continue for several Gyr depending on the star formation efficiency. Although the mass fraction in new stars is small, we find that the half-mass radius differs from the half-light radius in the V and H bands. Moreover synthetic 2D images in J, H, NUV, Hβ and V bands, using the characteristic filters of the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) on the Hubble Space Telescope, reveal that residual star formation induced by gas-rich minor mergers can be clearly observed during and after the final plunge, especially in the near-ultraviolet band, for interacting systems at (z ≤ 0.023) over moderate numbers of orbits (approximately two orbits correspond to typical exposure times of ∼3600 s). This suggests that WFC3 has the potential to resolve these substructures, characterize plausible past merger episodes and give clues to the formation of early-type galaxies.