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D. Valls–Gabaud & M. Chavez (eds) The Vertical Structure of Stars in Edge-on Galaxies

By Anil C. Seth, Julianne J. Dalcanton, Roelof S. De Jong and U. Of Washington


We present a summary of our recent work on the vertical distribution of the resolved stellar populations in six low mass, edge-on, spiral galaxies observed with the Hubble Space Telescope Advanced Camera for Surveys (HST/ACS). In each galaxy we find evidence for an extraplanar stellar component extending up to 15 scale heights (∼3.5 kpc) above the plane. We analyze the vertical distribution as a function of stellar age by tracking changes in the color-magnitude diagram. The young stellar component (< 10 8 yrs) is found to have a scale height larger than the young component in the Milky Way, suggesting that stars in these low mass galaxies form in a thicker disk. We also find that the scale height of a stellar population increases with age, with young main sequence stars, intermediate age asymptotic giant branch stars, and old red giant branch stars having succesively larger scale heights in each galaxy. This systematic trend indicates that disk heating must play some role in producing the extraplanar stars. We constrain the rate of disk heating using the observed trend between scale height and stellar age, and find that the observed heating rates are dramatically smaller than in the Milky Way. The color distributions of the red giant branch (RGB) stars well above the midplane indicate that the extended stellar components we see are moderately metal-poor, with peak metallicities of [Fe/H]∼-1 and with little or no metallicity gradient with height. The lack of metallicity gradient can be explained if a majority of extraplanar RGB stars were formed at early times and are not dominated by a younger heated population. Our observations suggest that, like the Milky Way, low mass disk galaxies also have multiple stellar components. We examine our results in light of disk heating and merger scenarios and conclude that both mechanisms likely played a role in forming the disks of our sample galaxies. 1

Year: 2005
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