Surface brightness and intrinsic luminosity of ellipticals

Barun Kumar Dhar, Liliya L Williams

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We show that the surface brightness profiles of elliptical galaxies can be parametrized using a linear superposition of two or three components, each of which is described by functions developed in Dhar & Williams as the 2D projections of a 3D Einasto density profile. For a sample of 23 ellipticals in and around the Virgo Cluster with total absolute V magnitude -24 < MVT < -15, our multicomponent models span a dynamic range up to 106 in surface brightness and up to 105 in radius down to the resolution limit of the Hubble Space Telescope, have a median rms of 0.032 mag arcsec-2 consistent with the rms of 0.03 from random errors of the data, and are statistically justified at >3σ. Our models indicate that (i) the central component is more concentrated than the outer component; and (ii) the central component of massive shallow-cusp ('core') galaxies is much more luminous, extended and concentrated than that of steep-cusp ('cuspy') galaxies, with their near exponential central profiles indicating disc-like systems, whose existence must be verified spectroscopically. Galaxy structure can thus be modelled extremely well with a central mass excess for all galaxies. This is not necessarily contrary to the notion of a mass deficit in 'core' galaxies, since mass ejection due to core scouring by a supermassive black hole (SMBH) binary could have affected the shape of the central components. However, we show that the existence, amount, radial extent and sign of such deficits disagree substantially in the literature, both for a given galaxy and on an average over a sample. We discuss possible implications and suggest that SMBH binaries are unlikely to be the sole mechanism for producing the large 'cores' of massive galaxies. Using results from the SAURON survey, we deduce that under certain conditions of symmetry, inclination angles and degree of triaxiality, the intrinsic (3D) density of light can be well described with a multicomponent Einasto model for both steep- and shallow-cusp galaxies. This indicates a universality in the functional form describing the 3D density distribution of light in galaxies and dark matter in Λ cold dark matter (ΛCDM) N-body haloes. Finally, planetary nebulae and strong-lensing observations, and the Einasto index n of ΛCDM dark matter haloes, indicate that our result - the outer component of the surface brightness profiles of massive galaxies has 5 ≲ n ≲ 8 - could imply (i) a common feature of collisionless systems; and (ii) that galaxies with such n for their outer component are dark matter dominated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)204-244
Number of pages41
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 21 2012


  • Dark matter
  • Galaxies: fundamental parameters
  • Galaxies: haloes
  • Galaxies: photometry
  • Galaxies: structure
  • Gravitational lensing: strong


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