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For refcode 2007AJ....133.2630C:
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2007AJ....133.2630C Evidence for Tidal Interactions and Mergers as the Origin of Galaxy Morphology Evolution in Compact Groups R. Coziol and I. Plauchu-Frayn Abstract. We present the results of a morphological study based on NIR images of 25 galaxies, with different levels of nuclear activity (star formation or AGN), in eight compact groups (CGs) of galaxies. We independently perform two different analyses: a study of the deviations of the isophotal levels from pure ellipses and a study of morphological asymmetries. The results yielded by the two analyses are highly consistent. For the first time, it is possible to show that deviations from pure ellipses are produced by inhomogeneous stellar mass distributions related to galaxy interactions and mergers. We find evidence of mass asymmetries in 74% of the galaxies in our sample. In 59% of these cases, the asymmetries come in pairs and are consistent with tidal effects produced by the proximity of companion galaxies. The symmetric galaxies are generally small in size or mass and inactive, and have an early-type morphology. They may have already lost their gas and least-attached envelope of stars to their more massive companions. In 20% of the galaxies we find evidence for cannibalism: a big galaxy swallowing a smaller companion. In 36% of the early-type galaxies the color gradient is positive (blue nucleus) or flat. Summing up these results, as much as 52% of the galaxies in our sample could show evidence of an ongoing or past merger. Our observations also suggest that galaxies in CGs merge more frequently under "dry" conditions (that is, once they have lost most of their gas). The high frequency of interacting and merging galaxies observed in our study is consistent with the bias of our sample toward CGs of type B, which represent the most active phase in the evolution of the groups. In these groups we also find a strong correlation between asymmetries and nuclear activity in early-type galaxies. This correlation allows us to identify tidal interactions and mergers as the cause of galaxy morphology transformation in CGs. Key words: Galaxies: Evolution, Galaxies: Interactions
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