We have used the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) to study a large sample of ultraluminous IR galaxies (ULIRGs). With a rich legacy database of 150 high-resolution images, we are studying the fine-scale structure of this unique collection of violently starbursting systems. We review here some of the latest results from our survey. We present a simple morphological classification scheme, consisting of 4 ULIRG classes, showing that there is very little luminosity variation (in the mean) between the classes, and that there is equal likelihood of a ULIRG being a recent merger (single) as an on-going collision (multiple). It now appears that the fraction of ULIRGs that show evidence for interaction or merging is very close to 100%. A star-like nucleus is seen in about 15% of the ULIRGs, for which the dominant power source may be a dust-enshrouded AGN/QSO. Many of the results on ULIRGs are pointing to a complicated dynamical history for this sample of galaxies. One possible explanation for this dynamical diversity is the multiple-merger model proposed by Taniguchi & Shioya (1998, ApJ, 501, L167). We present strong observational evidence for multiple mergers among a large fraction of our ULIRG sample. If this is a valid model, then ULIRGs could be the merger remnants of an earlier generation of compact groups of galaxies.
|Journal||Astrophysics and Space Science|
|Publication status||Published - 1999|