Theoretical predictions for the effect of nebular emission on the broad-band photometry of high-redshift galaxies

Wilkins, Stephen M, Coulton, William, Caruana, Joseph, Croft, Rupert, Di Matteo, Tiziana, Khandai, Nishikanta, Feng, Yu, Bunker, Andrew and Elbert, Holly (2013) Theoretical predictions for the effect of nebular emission on the broad-band photometry of high-redshift galaxies. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 435 (4). pp. 2885-2895. ISSN 0035-8711

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By combining optical and near-IR observations from the Hubble Space Telescope with near-IR photometry from the Spitzer Space Telescope, it is possible to measure the rest-frame UV– optical colours of galaxies at z = 4–8. The UV–optical spectral energy distribution of star formation dominated galaxies is the result of several different factors. These include the joint distribution of stellar masses, ages and metallicities (solely responsible for the pure stellar spectral energy distribution), and the subsequent reprocessing by dust and gas in the interstellar medium. Using a large cosmological hydrodynamical simulation (MassiveBlack-II), we investigate the predicted spectral energy distributions of galaxies at high redshift with a particular emphasis on assessing the potential contribution of nebular emission. We find that the average (median) pure stellar UV–optical colour correlates with both luminosity and redshift such that galaxies at lower redshift and higher luminosity are typically redder. Assuming that the escape fraction of ionizing photons is close to zero, the effect of nebular emission is to redden the UV–optical 1500 − Vw colour by, on average, 0.4 mag at z = 8 declining to 0.25 mag at z = 4. Young and low-metallicity stellar populations, which typically have bluer pure stellar UV–optical colours, produce larger ionizing luminosities and are thus more strongly affected by the reddening effects of nebular emission. This causes the distribution of 1500 − Vw colours to narrow and the trends with luminosity and redshift to weaken. The strong effect of nebular emission leaves observed-frame colours critically sensitive to the redshift of the source. For example, increasing the redshift by 0.1 can result in observed-frame colours changing by up to ∼0.6. These predictions reinforce the need to include nebular emission when modelling the spectral energy distributions of galaxies at high redshift and also highlight the difficultly in interpreting the observed colours of individual galaxies without precise redshift information.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences > Physics and Astronomy
Research Centres and Groups: Astronomy Centre
Depositing User: Stephen Wilkins
Date Deposited: 06 Jun 2017 11:37
Last Modified: 06 Jun 2017 12:15

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