Reconstructing merger timelines using star cluster age distributions: The case of MCG+08-11-002

Rebecca L. Davies*, Anne M. Medling, U. Vivian, Claire E. Max, David Sanders, Lisa J. Kewley

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    4 Citations (Scopus)


    We present near-infrared imaging and integral field spectroscopy of the centre of the dusty luminous infrared galaxy merger MCG+08-11-002, taken using the Near InfraRed Camera 2 (NIRC2) and the OH-Suppressing InfraRed Imaging Spectrograph (OSIRIS) on Keck II. We achieve a spatial resolution of ~25 pc in the K band, allowing us to resolve 41 star clusters in the NIRC2 images. We calculate the ages of 22/25 star clusters within the OSIRIS field using the equivalent widths of the CO 2.3 μm absorption feature and the Br γ nebular emission line. The star cluster age distribution has a clear peak at ages ≲20 Myr, indicative of current starburst activity associated with the final coalescence of the progenitor galaxies. There is a possible second peak at ~65 Myr which may be a product of the previous close passage of the galaxy nuclei.We fit single and double starburst models to the star cluster age distribution and use Monte Carlo sampling combined with two-sided Kolmogorov-Smirnov tests to calculate the probability that the observed data are drawn from each of the best-fitting distributions. There is a >90 per cent chance that the data are drawn from either a single or double starburst star formation history, but stochastic sampling prevents us from distinguishing between the two scenarios. Our analysis of MCG+08-11-002 indicates that star cluster age distributions provide valuable insights into the timelines of galaxy interactions and may therefore play an important role in the future development of precise merger stage classification systems.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)158-173
    Number of pages16
    JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2016


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