Resolving the stellar population of the standard elliptical galaxy NGC 3379

Michael D. Gregg, Henry C. Ferguson, Dante Minniti, Nial Tanvir, Robin Catchpole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Using the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) on board the Hubble Space Telescope, we have obtained F110W (∼J) and F160W (∼H) images of three fields in NGC 3379, a nearby normal giant elliptical galaxy. These images resolve individual red giant stars, yielding the first accurate color-magnitude diagrams for a normal luminous elliptical galaxy. The photometry reaches ∼1 mag below the red giant branch (RGB) tip with errors of ≲0.2 mag in F110W-F160W. A strong break in the luminosity function at F160W = 23.68±0.06 is identified as the tip of the red giant branch; comparison with theoretical isochrones implies a distance of 10.8±0.6 Mpc, in good agreement with a number of previous estimates using various techniques. The mean metallicity is close to solar, but there is an appreciable spread in abundance, from at least as metal-poor as [Fe/H]≈ -1.5 to as high as +0.8. There is a significant population of stars brighter than the RGB tip by up to ∼1 mag. The observations of each field were split over two epochs separated by 2-3 months, allowing the identification of candidate long-period variables; at least 40% of the stars brighter than the RGB tip are variable. Lacking period determinations, the exact nature of these variables remains uncertain, but the bright AGB stars and variables are similar to those found in metal-rich globular clusters and are not luminous enough to imply an intermediate-age population. All of the evidence points to a stellar population in NGC 3379 that is very similar to the bulge of the Milky Way, or an assortment of Galactic globular clusters covering a large metallicity spread.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1441-1459
Number of pages19
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number3 1779
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2004


  • Galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD
  • Galaxies: stellar content

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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