How to build a cluster: the formation and evolution of galaxies in high-redshift clusters and protoclusters

Cooke, Elizabeth A. (2016) How to build a cluster: the formation and evolution of galaxies in high-redshift clusters and protoclusters. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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High redshift galaxy protoclusters are the precursors of today’s massive clusters; the sites of formation of the most massive galaxies in the present-day Universe. By studying these immature structures we can directly analyse the formation of galaxies in the densest environments without relying on extrapolations from low redshift. Finding protoclusters is challenging due to the need for very wide and deep surveys. Radio-loud active galactic nuclei (RLAGN) have been shown to preferentially reside in overdense environments at z > 1. By using these bright radio sources as beacons, protoclusters may be efficiently selected, without the need for large, blind surveys. In this thesis I study the properties of galaxies in high redshift (z > 1.3) clusters and protoclusters selected around RLAGN.

Using a sample of 37 clusters and protoclusters from the Clusters Around Radio-Loud AGN (CARLA) survey, I show that the protocluster galaxies have an approximately unevolving, red observed-frame i'-[3.6] colour across 1.3 < z < 3.2. This is at odds with the simple models which are commonly used to explain the cluster red sequence in the local Universe, which predict cluster galaxy colours to become more blue at higher redshifts. Taking the full cluster population into account, I show that the formation of stars within the majority of massive cluster galaxies occurs over at least 2 Gyr, and peaks at z ~ 2–3. This is consistent with the cosmic star formation history, with star formation ending in clusters at 1 < z < 2. I further show that massive galaxies at z > 2 must have assembled within 0.5 Gyr of them forming a significant fraction of their stars. This means that few massive galaxies in z > 2 protoclusters could have formed via dry mergers.

Some of the CARLA structures exhibit signs of being mature, collapsed clusters. In a pilot project, I report on the discovery of a z = 1.58 cluster with a strong red sequence around the RLAGN 7C 1753+6311. I demonstrate that the cluster has an enhanced quiescent galaxy fraction that is three times that of the control field. I also show that this enhancement is mass dependent: 91 +/- 9% of the M* > 10^10.5 Msun cluster galaxies are quiescent, compared to only 36 +/- 2% of field galaxies, whereas the fraction of quiescent galaxies with lower masses is the same in the cluster and field environments. This is in contrast to low redshift studies which have shown that mass and environmental effects on quenching star formation are separable.

In the literature there is some debate as to whether RLAGN preferentially reside in clusters of a certain stage of collapse. The presence of a dense core and a well-formed, quiescent red sequence suggest that 7C1753+6311 resides within a mature cluster. This means that distant RLAGN do not solely reside in young, uncollapsed protoclusters, rather they can be found in clusters in a wide range of evolutionary states.

Finally I present results from surveys of Halpha emitters in the fields around three high redshift RLAGN. I find that there is more dust-obscured star formation in protocluster galaxies than in similarly-selected control field galaxies at z ~ 2.5 and there is tentative evidence of a higher fraction of starbursting galaxies in the denser environment. However, on average I do not find a difference between the star formation rate (SFR)-mass relations of the protocluster and field galaxies and so conclude that the SFR of these galaxies at z ~ 2.5 is governed predominantly by galaxy mass and not the host environment. The stellar mass distribution of the protocluster galaxies is also skewed towards higher masses and there is a significant lack of low mass (M < 10^10 Msun) galaxies within the protocluster core.

These results have implications for future protocluster surveys. The lack of low mass galaxies affects the level of overdensity which is detected. If only high mass galaxies are considered, the density of the protocluster field may be over-estimated. This means that it is important when quantifying protoclusters to compare their mass functions, rather than simply number overdensities. I also find that some radio galaxies do not reside in the centre, or densest region of the surrounding structure, meaning the overdensity measured in an aperture centred on the RLAGN will be underestimated. This means that future studies of (proto)clusters around RLAGN should use larger fields of view in order to establish the existence of a (proto)cluster.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Hatch, Nina A.
Almaini, O.
Keywords: Astronomy Extragalactic Galaxies Clusters Protoclusters Galaxy formation Galaxy evolution
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Science > School of Physics and Astronomy
Item ID: 35454
Depositing User: Cooke, Elizabeth
Date Deposited: 14 Dec 2016 06:40
Last Modified: 15 Dec 2016 05:06

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