Journal article

Direct detection of galaxy stellar halos: NGC 3957 as a test case

We present a direct detection of the stellar halo of the edge-on S0 galaxy NGC 3957, using ultra-deep VLT/VIMOS V and R images. This is achieved with a sky subtraction strategy based on infrared techniques. These observations allow us to reach unprecedented high signal-to-noise ratios of up to 15 kpc away from the galaxy center, rendering photon-noise negligible. The 1 sigma detection limits are R = 30.6 mag/arcsec(2) and V = 31.4 mag/arcsec(2). We conduct a thorough analysis of the possible sources of systematic errors that could affect the data: flat-fielding, differences in CCD responses, scaling of the sky background, the extended halo itself, and PSF wings. We conclude that the V - R colour of the NGC 3957 halo, calculated between 5 and 8 kpc above the disc plane where the systematic errors are modest, is consistent with an old and preferentially metal-poor normal stellar population, like that revealed in nearby galaxy halos from studies of their resolved stellar content. We do not find support for the extremely red colours found in earlier studies of diffuse halo emission, which we suggest might have been due to residual systematic errors.


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