History and destiny of an emerging early-type galaxy. New IFU insights on the major-merger remnant NGC 7252


Context. The merging of galaxies is one key aspect in our favourite hierarchical ensuremathŁambdaCDM Universe and is an important channel leading to massive quiescent elliptical galaxies. Understanding this complex transformational process is ongoing. Aims: We aim to study NGC 7252, which is one of the nearest major-merger galaxy remnants, observed 1 Gyr after the collision of presumably two gas-rich disc galaxies. It is therefore an ideal laboratory to study the processes inherent to the transformation of disc galaxies to ellipticals. Methods: We obtained wide-field IFU spectroscopy with the VLT-VIMOS integral-field spectrograph covering the central 50`` × 50’’ of NGC 7252 to map the stellar and ionised gas kinematics, and the distribution and conditions of the ionised gas, revealing the extent of ongoing star formation and recent star formation history. Results: Contrary to previous studies, we find the inner gas disc not to be counter-rotating with respect to the stars. In addition, the stellar kinematics appear complex with a clear indication of a prolate-like rotation component which suggests a polar merger configuration. The ongoing star formation rate is 2.2 ensuremath± 0.6 M$_ensuremathødot$ yr$^-1$ and implies a typical depletion time of 2 Gyr given the molecular gas content. Furthermore, the spatially resolved star formation history suggests a slight radial dependence, moving outwards at later times. We confirm a large AGN-ionised gas cloud previously discovered 5 kpc south of the nucleus, and find a higher ionisation state of the ionised gas at the galaxy centre relative to the surrounding gas disc. Although the higher ionisation towards the centre is potentially degenerate within the central star forming ring, it may be associated with a low- luminosity AGN. Conclusions: Although NGC 7252 has been classified as post-starburst galaxy at the centre, the elliptical-like major-merger remnant still appears very active. A central kpc-scale gas disc has presumably re-formed quickly within the last 100 Myr after final coalescence. The disc features ongoing star formation, implying Gyr long timescale to reach the red sequence through gas consumption alone. While NGC 7252 is useful to probe the transformation from discs to ellipticals, it is not well-suited to study the transformation from blue to red at this point.