Diffuse X-Ray-Emitting Gas in Major Mergers

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Using archived data from the Chandra X-ray telescope, we have extracted the diffuse X-ray emission from 49 equal-mass interacting/merging galaxy pairs in a merger sequence, from widely separated pairs to merger remnants. After the removal of contributions from unresolved point sources, we compared the diffuse thermal X-ray luminosity from hot gas (L X(gas)) with the global star formation rate (SFR). After correction for absorption within the target galaxy, we do not see a strong trend of L X(gas)/SFR with the SFR or merger stage for galaxies with SFR > 1 Myr-1. For these galaxies, the median L X(gas)/SFR is 5.5 ×1039 ((erg s-1)/Myr-1)), similar to that of normal spiral galaxies. These results suggest that stellar feedback in star-forming galaxies reaches an approximately steady-state condition, in which a relatively constant fraction of about 2% of the total energy output from supernovae and stellar winds is converted into X-ray flux. Three late-stage merger remnants with low SFRs and high K-band luminosities (L K ) have enhanced L X(gas)/SFR; their UV/IR/optical colors suggest that they are post-starburst galaxies, perhaps in the process of becoming ellipticals. Systems with L K < 1010 L have lower L X(gas)/SFR ratios than the other galaxies in our sample, perhaps due to lower gravitational fields or lower metallicities. We see no relation between L X(gas)/SFR and Seyfert activity in this sample, suggesting that feedback from active galactic nuclei is not a major contributor to the hot gas in our sample galaxies.