Some recent observations seem to disagree with hierarchical theories of galaxy formation on the role of major mergers in a late build-up of massive early-type galaxies. We re-address this question by analysing the morphology, structural distortion level, and star formation enhancement of a sample of massive galaxies (M* > 5 × 1010M⊙) lying on the Red Sequence and its surroundings at 0.3 < z < 1.5. We have used an initial sample of ~1800 sources with Ks < 20.5 mag over an area ~155 arcmin2 on the Groth Strip, combining data from the Rainbow Extragalactic Database and the GOYA Survey. Red galaxy classes that can be directly associated to intermediate stages of major mergers and to their final products have been defined. For the first time we report observationally the existence of a dominant evolutionary path among massive red galaxies at 0.6 < z < 1.5, consisting in the conversion of irregular disks into irregular spheroids, and of these ones into regular spheroids. This result points to: 1) the massive red regular galaxies at low redshifts derive from the irregular ones populating the Red Sequence and its neighbourhood at earlier epochs up to z ~ 1.5; 2) the progenitors of the bulk of present-day massive red regular galaxies have been blue disks that have migrated to the Red Sequence majoritarily through major mergers at 0.6 < z < 1.2 (these mergers thus starting at z ~ 1.5); 3) the formation of E-S0's that end up with M* > 1011M⊙ at z = 0 through gas-rich major mergers has frozen since z ~ 0.6. Our results support that major mergers have played the dominant role in the definitive build-up of present-day E-S0's with M* > 1011M⊙ at 0.6 < z < 1.2, in good agreement with the hierarchical scenario proposed in the Eliche-Moral et al. (2010a) model (see also Eliche-Moral et al. 2010b). This study is published in Prieto et al. (2012).
Supported by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (MICINN) under projects AYA2009-10368, AYA2006-12955, AYA2010-21887-C04-04, and AYA2009-11137, by the Madrid Regional Government through the AstroMadrid Project (CAM S2009/ESP-1496), and by the Spanish MICINN under the Consolider-Ingenio 2010 Program grant CSD2006-00070: “First Science with the GTC” (http://www.iac.es/consolider-ingenio-gtc/). S. D. H. & G.