The presence of a diffuse stellar component in galaxy clusters has been established by a number of observational works in recent years. In this contribution I summarize our results (Zibetti et al. 2005) obtained by stacking SDSS images of 683 clusters, selected with the maxBCG algorithm at 0.2 < z < 0.3. Thanks to our large sample (≳30 times larger than any other sample of individually observed clusters so far) and the advantages of image stacking applied to SDSS images, we are able to measure the systematic properties of the intracluster light (ICL) with very high accuracy.
We find that the average surface brightness of the ICL ranges between 26 and 32 mag arcsec−2, and constantly declines from 70 kpc cluster-centric distance (i.e. distance from the BCG) to 700 kpc. Interestingly, the fraction of diffuse light over the total light (including galaxies), monotonically declines from ~ 50 to ≲ 5% over the same range of distances, thus showing that the ICL is more easily produced close to the bottom of a cluster's potential well. On the other hand, clusters lacking a bright BCG, hardly build up a large amount of intracluster stellar component. The link between the growth of the BCG and the ICL is also suggested by the strong degree of alignment between these two components which is observed in clusters where the BCG displays a significant elongation. With the additional fact that the colors of the ICL are consistent with those of galaxies, all this appears to be evidence for intracluster stars being stripped from galaxies that suffer very strong tidal interactions in the center of clusters and eventually merge into the BCG.
Our measurements also show that intracluster stars are a minor component of a cluster's baryonic budget, representing only ~ 10% of the total optical emission within 500 kpc.
Finally, we discuss some open issues that emerge from a comparison of the present results with other observations and recent theoretical modeling.
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