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Fassbender, Rene (2007): Studying Cosmic Evolution with the XMM-Newton Distant Cluster Project: X-ray Luminous Galaxy Clusters at z>~1 and their Galaxy Populations. Dissertation, LMU München: Fakultät für Physik



Investigating X-ray luminous galaxy clusters at high redshift (z>~1) provides a challenging but fundamental constraint on evolutionary studies of the largest virialized structures in the Universe, the baryonic matter component in form of the hot intracluster medium (ICM), their galaxy populations, and the effects of the mysterious Dark Energy. The main aim of this thesis work is to establish the observational foundation for the XMM-Newton Distant Cluster Project (XDCP). This new generation serendipitous X-ray survey is focused on the most distant galaxy clusters at z>1, based on the selection of extended X-ray sources, their identification as clusters and redshift estimation via two-band imaging, and their final spectroscopic confirmation. As a first step, I have analyzed 80 deg^2 (469 fields) of deep XMM-Newton archival X-ray data with a new pipeline processing system and selected almost 1000 extended sources as galaxy cluster candidates, 75% of which could be identified as clusters or groups at z<~0.6 using available optical data. This left about 250 candidates with typical 0.5-2.0keV X-ray fluxes of ~10^{-14} erg/s/cm^2 in need of confirmation as distant cluster sources. Therefore, I have adopted a new strategy to efficiently establish the nature of these extended X-ray sources and estimate their redshifts, based on medium deep Z- and H-band photometry and the observed Z-H `red-sequence' color of early-type cluster galaxies. To fully exploit this technique, I have designed a new near-infrared data reduction code, which was applied to the data collected for 25% of the 250 distant cluster candidates in two imaging campaigns at the 3.5m telescope at the Calar Alto Observatory. As a first main result, more than 20 X-ray luminous clusters were discovered to lie at a photometric redshift of z>~0.9. Furthermore, the new Z-H red sequence method has allowed a cluster sample study over an unprecedented redshift baseline of 0.2<~z<~1.5. From a comparison of the observed color evolution of the cluster red-sequence galaxies with model predictions, I could constrain the formation epoch of the bulk of their stellar populations as z_f=4.2+-1.1. This confirms the well-established old age of the stellar populations of early-type galaxies in clusters. The preliminary investigation of the H-band luminosity evolution of 63 brightest cluster galaxies (BCGs) over the same redshift range provides for the first time direct observational indications that the most massive cluster galaxies in the local Universe have doubled their stellar mass since z~1.5. My tentative finding that nearby BCGs have old, passively evolving stellar populations and were assembled in the last 9Gyr is in qualitative agreement with predictions from the latest numerical simulations based on the standard cold dark matter scenario of galaxy formation and evolution via hierarchical merging. The confirmation and refinement of these preliminary results will contribute to the development of a consistent picture of the cosmic evolution of galaxy populations and the large-scale structure.