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Extragalactic stellar populations in the near and mid-infrared: 1-30 micron emission from evolved populations, young and dusty star forming regions and the earliest stellar populations

Erin Mentuch

Doctor of Philosophy 2010
Graduate Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Toronto

The near- through mid-infrared offers a unique and, as this thesis aims to show, essential view of extragalactic stellar populations both nearby, at intermediate redshifts and at very high redshift. In chapter 2, I demonstrate that rest-frame near-IR photometry obtained by the Spitzer Space Telescope provides more robust stellar mass estimates for a spectroscopic sample of ∼ 100 galaxies in the redshift desert (0.5< z <2), and is crucial for modeling galaxies with young star-forming populations. From this analysis, a surprising result emerges in the data. Although the rest-frame light short of 2 micron improves stellar mass estimates, the models and observations disagree beyond 2 micron and emission from non-stellar sources becomes significant. At wavelengths from 1–30 micron, stellar and non-stellar emission contribute equally to a galaxy’s global spectral energy distribution. This is unlike visible wavelengths where stellar emission dominates or the far-IR where dust emission provides the bulk of a galaxy’s luminosity. Using the sample of high-z galaxies, in chapter 3, I quantify the statistical significance of the excess emission at 2-5 micron and find the emission to correlate with the O II luminosity, suggesting a link between the excess emission and star formation. The origin of the excess emission is not clear, although I explore a number of non-stellar candidates in this chapter. Nearby resolved observations provide a clearer picture of the excess by spatially resolving 68 nearby galaxies. By analyzing the pixel-by-pixel near-IR colours within each galaxy at ∼ 1-5 micron, increasingly red near-IR colors are mapped to spatial regions in chapter 4. For regions with red NIR colors and high star formation rates, I find the broad near- through mid-IR spectrum is constant, varying only in amplitude as a function of the intensity of star formation, suggesting the infrared emission of a young, dusty stellar populations can be added to stellar population synthesis models as an additional component tied to the star formation rate. In closing the thesis, the focus is moved to the detection of stellar populations in the earliest star-forming galaxies. By z > 6, all visible wavelength emission is redshifted into near-IR wavelengths. In chapter 5, I show how a tunable near- IR filter I have helped develop holds promise for finding bright Lyman alpha emitting galaxies at redshifts of 8 < z < 11.

Reproduced with permission. library@astro.utoronto.ca
October 18, 2010