Environment and the epochs of galaxy formation in the SDSS era
We analyse a sample of 1,652 elliptical galaxies morphologically selected from the SDSS DR4 with respect to their stellar population properties such as luminosity weighted ages, metallicities and /Fe element abundance ratios. We confirm and statistically strengthen earlier results that all three stellar population parameters correlate with velocity dispersion, hence galaxy mass. Most surprisingly and differently from previous work, however, these scaling relations turn out to be independent of environmental density for the bulk of the population. This implies that the formation epochs and timescales of the stellar populations in massive galaxies are entirely independent of the environmental density and only driven by galaxy mass. At the low-mass end some fraction of the galaxies show signs of recent star formation on top of the general downsizing trend. It is only the fractional amount of such rejuvenated galaxies that reveals strong dependence with environment. The influence of the environment apparently undergoes a phase transition at about z 1. An early galaxy formation phase without environmental dependence is followed by a rejuvenation phase at redshifts below z 1 affecting mostly low-mass galaxies, during which the environment plays a crucial role.