Galaxy color–magnitude diagram

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A mock-up of the galaxy color–magnitude diagram with three populations: the red sequence, the blue cloud, and the green valley.

The galaxy color–magnitude diagram shows the relationship between absolute magnitude (a measure of luminosity) and mass of galaxies. A preliminary description of the three areas of this diagram was made in 2003 by Eric F. Bell et al. from the COMBO-17 survey[1] that clarified the bimodal distribution of red and blue galaxies as seen in analysis of Sloan Digital Sky Survey data[2] and even in de Vaucouleurs's 1961 analyses of galaxy morphology.[3]

The diagram has three main features: the red sequence, the green valley, and the blue cloud. The red sequence includes most red galaxies, which are generally elliptical galaxies. The blue cloud includes most blue galaxies, which are generally spirals. In between the two distributions is an underpopulated space known as the green valley which includes a number of red spirals.

Unlike the comparable Hertzsprung–Russell diagram for stars, galaxy properties are not necessarily completely determined by their location on the color–magnitude diagram. The diagram also shows considerable evolution through time. The red sequence earlier in the evolution of the universe was more constant in color across magnitudes and the blue cloud was not as uniformly distributed but showed sequence progression.

One of five patches of sky covered by the COMBO-17 survey.[4]

New research suggests the green valley is actually composed of two different populations of galaxies: one of late-type galaxies, where star formation has been quenched due to their gas supplies being shut off followed by exhaustion of their gas reservoirs for several billion years, and another of early-type galaxies where both the gas supplies and gas reservoirs have been destroyed very quickly, likely because of mergers with other galaxies and/or the presence of an active galactic nucleus.[5][6]

The Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy are assumed to lie in the green valley because their star formation is slowing down due to running out of gas.[7]


  1. ^ Bell, Eric F. et al. Nearly 5000 Distant Early‐Type Galaxies in COMBO‐17: A Red Sequence and Its Evolution since z=1, The Astrophysical Journal, 608:752–767, 2004 June 20. [1]
  2. ^ Strateva, I., et al. Color Separation of Galaxy Types in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Imaging Data, 2001, The Astronomical Journal, 122, 1861 [2]
  3. ^ de Vaucouleurs, G. Integrated Colors of Bright Galaxies in the u, b, V System. 1961, The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, 5, 233. [3]
  4. ^ "A Deep Look into a Dark Sky". ESO Picture of the Week. Retrieved 8 August 2014.
  5. ^ "Is our Milky Way galaxy a zombie, already dead and we don't know it?". Retrieved 2020-07-17.
  6. ^ Schawinski, Kevin; Urry, C. Megan; Simmons, Brooke D.; Fortson, Lucy; Kaviraj, Sugata; Keel, William C.; Lintott, Chris J.; Masters, Karen L.; Nichol, Robert C.; Sarzi, Marc; Ramin; Skibba; Treister, Ezequiel; Willett, Kyle W.; Wong, O. Ivy; Yi, Sukyoung K. (2014). "The Green Valley is a Red Herring: Galaxy Zoo reveals two evolutionary pathways towards quenching of star formation in early- and late-type galaxies". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 440 (1): 889. arXiv:1402.4814. Bibcode:2014MNRAS.440..889S. doi:10.1093/mnras/stu327.
  7. ^ Mutch, S.J.; Croton, D.J.; Poole, G.B. (2011). "The Mid-life Crisis of the Milky Way and M31". The Astrophysical Journal. 736 (2): 84. arXiv:1105.2564. Bibcode:2011ApJ...736...84M. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/736/2/84.