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Astron. Astrophys. 341, 329-347 (1999)

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HST images and properties of the most distant radio galaxies

L. Pentericci 1, H.J.A. Röttgering 1, G.K. Miley 1, P. McCarthy 2, H. Spinrad 3, W.J.M. van Breugel 4 and F. Macchetto 5

1 Leiden Observatory, P.O. Box 9513, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands
2 The Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, 813 Santa Barbara Street, Pasadena, CA 91101, USA
3 Astronomy Department, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA
4 Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, P.O. Box 808, Livermore, CA 94459, USA
5 Space Telescope Science Institute, 3700 San Martin Drive, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA

Received 8 July 1998 / Accepted 16 October 1998


With the Hubble Space Telescope we have obtained images of 9 of the most distant radio galaxies. The galaxies, which have redshifts between [FORMULA] and [FORMULA], were observed with the WFPC2 camera in a broad band filter (F606W or F707W, roughly equivalent to V or R-band), corresponding to the near ultraviolet emission in the rest frame of the radio galaxies. The total observing time was 2 orbits per object. In this paper we present the images overlayed on VLA radio maps of comparable resolution. We also present previously unpublished images, taken from the HST archive, of two other high redshift radio galaxies, observed through similar broad band filters. We find that on the scale of the HST observations there is a wide variety of morphological structures of the hosting galaxies: most objects have a clumpy, irregular appearance, consisting of a bright nucleus and a number of smaller components, suggestive of merging systems. Some observed structures could be due (at least partly) to the presence of dust distributed through the galaxies. The UV continuum emission is generally elongated and aligned with the axis of the radio sources, however the characteristics of the "alignment effect" differ from case to case, suggesting that the phenomenon cannot be explained by a single physical mechanism. We compare the properties of our radio galaxies with those of the UV dropout galaxies and conclude that (i) the most massive radio galaxies may well evolve from an aggregate of UV dropout galaxies and (ii) high redshift radio galaxies probably evolve into present day brightest cluster galaxies.

Key words: galaxies: individual: TX 1707+1051 – galaxies: individual: MRC 2104+242 – galaxies: formation – galaxies: clusters: general – galaxies: active – cosmology: early Universe

Send offprint requests to: L. Pentericci (laurastrw.leidenuniv.nl)

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© European Southern Observatory (ESO) 1999

Online publication: December 4, 1998