Evolution and Impact of Bars over the last nine Gyr: Early Results from GEMS
Bars drive the dynamical evolution of disk galaxies by redistributing mass and angular momentum, and they are ubiquitous in present-day spirals. Early studies of the Hubble Deep Field reported a dramatic decline in the rest-frame optical bar fraction f_opt to below 5% at redshifts z>0.7, implying that disks at these epochs are fundamentally different from present-day spirals. The GEMS bar project, based on ~8300 galaxies with HST-based morphologies and accurate redshifts over the range 0.2-1.1, aims at constraining the evolution and impact of bars over the last 8 Gyr. We present early results indicating that f_opt remains nearly constant at ~30% over the range z=0.2-1.1,corresponding to lookback times of ~2.5-8 Gyr. The bars detected at z>0.6 are primarily strong with ellipticities of 0.4-0.8. Remarkably, the bar fraction and range of bar sizes observed at z>0.6 appear to be comparable to the values measured in the local Universe for bars of corresponding strengths. Implications for bar evolution models are discussed.