A high stellar velocity dispersion for a compact massive galaxy at redshift z = 2.186

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Abstract

Recent studies have found that the oldest and most luminous galaxies in the early Universe are surprisingly compact1,2,3,4,5,6,7, having stellar masses similar to present-day elliptical galaxies but much smaller sizes. This finding has attracted considerable attention8,9,10,11,12,13, as it suggests that massive galaxies have grown in size by a factor of about five over the past ten billion years (10 Gyr). A key test of these results is a determination of the stellar kinematics of one of the compact galaxies: if the sizes of these objects are as extreme as has been claimed, their stars are expected to have much higher velocities than those in present-day galaxies of the same mass. Here we report a measurement of the stellar velocity dispersion of a massive compact galaxy at redshift z = 2.186, corresponding to a look-back time of 10.7 Gyr. The velocity dispersion is very high at  km s-1, consistent with the mass and compactness of the galaxy inferred from photometric data. This would indicate significant recent structural and dynamical evolution of massive galaxies over the past 10 Gyr. The uncertainty in the dispersion was determined from simulations that include the effects of noise and template mismatch. However, we cannot exclude the possibility that some subtle systematic effect may have influenced the analysis, given the low signal-to-noise ratio of our spectrum.

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Figure 1: Spectrum and HST images of 1255–0 at z = 2.186.
Figure 2: Properties of 1255–0 compared to nearby galaxies.

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Acknowledgements

This Letter is based on observations obtained at the Gemini Observatory and with the HST. This work was supported by NASA and the NSF. We thank I. Labbé, G. Illingworth, D. Marchesini and R. Quadri for their contributions in the initial stages of this project.

Author Contributions P.G.v.D. wrote the Gemini proposal, did the observations, measured the velocity dispersion, wrote the Letter and led the interpretation. M.K. reduced the Gemini spectrum, determined the stellar mass and contributed to the interpretation. M.F. independently measured the velocity dispersion and contributed to the analysis and interpretation.

Author information

Correspondence to Pieter G. van Dokkum.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Methods and Supplementary Figures 1-2 with Legends. (PDF 144 kb)

Supplementary Data

This file contains an electronic version of the spectrum that was used to determine the velocity dispersion. Columns are observed wavelength in Å, flux in F(λ), and the error in the flux. (TXT 119 kb)

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van Dokkum, P., Kriek, M. & Franx, M. A high stellar velocity dispersion for a compact massive galaxy at redshift z = 2.186. Nature 460, 717–719 (2009) doi:10.1038/nature08220

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