Galaxy pairs in deep HST images: Evidence for evolution in the galaxy merger rate

Jordan M. Burkey, William C. Keel, Rogier Windhorst, Barbara E. Franklin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


We use four deep serendipitous fields observed with the HST Wide-Field Camera to constrain the rate of galaxy merging between the current epoch and z ≃ 0.7. Since most mergers occur between members of bound pairs, the merger rate is given to a good approximation by (half) the rate of disappearance of galaxies in pairs. An objective criterion for pair membership shows that 34% ± 9% of our HST galaxies with I = 18-22 belong to pairs, compared to 7% locally. This means that about 13% of the galaxy population has disappeared due to merging in the cosmic epoch corresponding to this magnitude interval (or 0.1 ≲ z ≲ 0.7). Our pair fraction is a lower limit: correction for pair members falling below our detection threshold might raise the fraction to ∼50%. Since we address only two-galaxy merging, these values do not include physical systems of higher multiplicity. Incorporating I-band field-galaxy redshift distributions, the pair fraction grows with redshift as ∝(1 + z)3.5±0.5 and the merger rate as (1 + z)2.5±0.5. This may have significant implications for the interpretation of galaxy counts (disappearance of faint blue galaxies), the cosmological evolution of faint radio sources and quasars [which evolve approximately as ∝(1 + z)3; the similarity in the power law is necessary but not sufficient evidence for a causal relation], statistics of QSO companions, the galaxy content in distant clusters, and the merging history of a "typical" galaxy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)L13-L17
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 PART 2
StatePublished - Jul 1 1994


  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Galaxy pairs in deep HST images: Evidence for evolution in the galaxy merger rate'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this