Lenticular galaxy is a type of galaxy intermediate between an elliptical and a spiral galaxy in galaxy morphological classification schemes. It contains a large-scale disc but does not have large-scale spiral arms. Lenticular galaxies are disc galaxies that have used up or lost most of their interstellar matter and therefore have very little ongoing star formation. They may, however, retain significant dust in their disks.
As a result, they consist mainly of aging stars (like elliptical galaxies). All of their stars are thought to be older than about a billion years, in agreement with their offset from the Tully–Fisher relation . Despite the morphological differences, lenticular and elliptical galaxies share common properties like spectral features and scaling relations. Both can be considered early-type galaxies that are passively evolving, at least in the local part of the Universe. Connecting the E galaxies with the S0 galaxies are the ES galaxies with intermediate-scale discs.
In addition to general stellar attributes, globular clusters are found more frequently in lenticular galaxies than in spiral galaxies of similar mass and luminosity. They also have little to no molecular gas (hence the lack of star formation) and no significant hydrogen α or 21-cm emission. Finally, unlike ellipticals, they may still possess significant dust.
Lenticular galaxies share kinematic properties with both spiral and elliptical galaxies. This is due to the significant bulge and disk nature of lenticulars. The bulge component is similar to elliptical galaxies in that it is pressure supported by a central velocity dispersion. This situation is analogous to a balloon, where the motions of the air particles (stars in a bulge’s case) are dominated by random motions.
However, the kinematics of lenticular galaxies are dominated by the rotationally supported disk. Rotation support implies the average circular motion of stars in the disk is responsible for the stability of the galaxy. Thus, kinematics are often used to distinguish lenticular galaxies from elliptical galaxies. Determining the distinction between elliptical galaxies and lenticular galaxies often relies on the measurements of velocity dispersion, rotational velocity, and ellipticity.
Their disk-like, possibly dusty, appearance suggests they come from faded spiral galaxies, whose arm features disappeared. However, some lenticular galaxies are more luminous than spiral galaxies, which suggests that they are not merely the faded remnants of spiral galaxies. Lenticular galaxies might result from a galaxy merger, which increase the total stellar mass and might give the newly merged galaxy a disk-like, arm-less appearance.
Alternatively, it has been proposed that they grew their disks via (gas and minor merger) accretion events. It had previously been suggested that the evolution of luminous lenticular galaxies may be closely linked to that of elliptical galaxies, whereas fainter lenticulars might be more closely associated with ram-pressure stripped spiral galaxies, although this latter galaxy harassment scenario has since been queried due to the existence of extremely isolated, low-luminosity lenticular galaxies such as LEDA 2108986.
- Cartwheel Galaxy, lenticular galaxy about 500 million light-years away in the constellation Sculptor
- NGC 2787, a barred lenticular galaxy
- NGC 4608, a barred lenticular galaxy about 56 million light years away in Virgo