What drives the variance of galaxy spectra?

Sharbaf, Zahra; Ferreras, Ignacio; Lahav, Ofer
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Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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We present a study aimed at understanding the physical phenomena underlying the formation and evolution of galaxies following a data-driven analysis of spectroscopic data based on the variance in a carefully selected sample. We apply principal component analysis (PCA) independently to three subsets of continuum-subtracted optical spectra, segregated into their nebular emission activity as quiescent, star-forming, and active galactic nuclei (AGNs). We emphasize that the variance of the input data in this work only relates to the absorption lines in the photospheres of the stellar populations. The sample is taken from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) in the stellar velocity dispersion range 100-150 km s-1, to minimize the 'blurring' effect of the stellar motion. We restrict the analysis to the first three principal components (PCs) and find that PCA segregates the three types with the highest variance mapping SSP-equivalent age, along with an inextricable degeneracy with metallicity, even when all three PCs are included. Spectral fitting shows that stellar age dominates PC1, whereas PC2 and PC3 have a mixed dependence of age and metallicity. The trends support - independently of any model fitting - the hypothesis of an evolutionary sequence from star formation to AGN to quiescence. As a further test of the consistency of the analysis, we apply the same methodology in different spectral windows, finding similar trends, but the variance is maximal in the blue wavelength range, roughly around the 4000 Å break.
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