The properties of barred disks in the field and dense environments : implications for galaxy evolution
Stellar bars are the most important internal drivers of the evolution of disk galaxies because they efficiently redistribute mass and angular momentum in the baryonic and dark matter components of galaxies. Mounting evidence suggests that mechanisms other than major mergers of galaxies, such as minor mergers, gas accretion, and bar-driven secular processes, play an important role in galaxy evolution since a redshift z~2. In order to characterize the evolution of barred disks, this thesis presents one of the most comprehensive studies of barred galaxies in the field at low redshifts, and also as a function of environment across galaxy clusters of different densities. This work improves significantly on earlier studies by using quantitative methods to characterize bars, analyzing high-quality data from some of the largest disk galaxy samples to date, and using results across a range of Hubble types and environments to test different theoretical models for the evolution of disk galaxies. Our main results are summarized below: (1) Studies done as a part of this thesis have quantitatively shown for the first time that the optical bar fraction in z~ 0 field galaxies is a sensitive and non-monotonic function of host galaxy properties, such as the luminosity, stellar mass, and bulge-to-disk ratio. We find that at z~0, the bar fraction increases significantly from galaxies of intermediate mass and Hubble types (Sb) toward those of lower mass and late Hubble types (Sd-Sm). The behavior from intermediate to early Hubble types is more uncertain. These results, which have been subsequently confirmed by independent studies, set constraints for theoretical models and in particular underline the importance for bar growth of angular momentum exchange between the bar, disk, bulge, and dark matter halo, as well as the possible triggering of bars by external satellites and interactions with the dark matter. Furthermore, our results at optical and near-infrared wavelengths on the fraction and sizes of bars at z~0 provide the zero-redshift anchor point for studies of bars at higher redshifts with current and future space missions (e.g., ACS, WFC3, JWST), and allow us to assess the systematic effects in such studies. (2) Although cluster environments are unique laboratories for investigating the evolution of barred disks, only sparse and disparate results have emerged from early studies. In this thesis, we study barred disks in clusters using high-quality data from the Hubble Space Telescope Advanced Camera for Surveys for the moderately-rich cluster Abell 901/902 (characterized by a galaxy number density n~1,000 gal Mpc⁻³) at z~0.165, and of the Coma cluster at z~0.02, the densest cluster (n~10,000 gal Mpc⁻³) in the nearby Universe. We find that the optical bar fraction for bright, early Hubble type disk galaxies does not show a statistically significant variation (within the error bars of ± 10 to 12%) as a function of galaxy environment within the Abell 901/902 cluster, as well as between the Abell 901/902 cluster and the field. Similarly, the optical bar fraction for bright S0 galaxies shows no statistically significant variation (within the error bars of ±10%) between the Virgo, Abell 901/902, and core of the Coma clusters, even though these environments span over an order of magnitude in galaxy number density (n~300 to 10,000 gal Mpc⁻³). We suggest that the S0 bar fraction is not greatly enhanced in denser environments, such as the core of Coma, due to the predominance of high speed encounters over slow ones, the tidal heating of S0 disks, and the low gas content of S0s in rich clusters.