Near-infrared Emission Lines in Starburst Galaxies at 0.5 < z < 0.9: Discovery of a Merger Sequence of Extreme Obscurations

A. Calabrò, E. Daddi, P. Cassata, M. Onodera, R. Gobat, A. Puglisi, S. Jin, D. Liu, R. Amorín, N. Arimoto, M. Boquien, R. Carraro, D. Elbaz, E. Ibar, S. Juneau, F. Mannucci, H. Méndez Hernánez, E. Oliva, G. Rodighiero, F. ValentinoA. Zanella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations

Abstract

We obtained optical/near-IR rest-frame Magellan FIRE spectra (including Paβ and Paγ) of 25 starburst galaxies at 0.5 < z < 0.9, with average star formation rates (SFRs) seven times above the main sequence (MS). We find that Paschen-to-Balmer line ratios saturate around a constant value corresponding to A V ∼ 2-3 mag, while line-to-IR-luminosity ratios suggest a large range of more extreme obscurations and appear to be uncorrelated with the former. This behavior is not consistent with standard attenuation laws derived for local and distant galaxies, yet is remarkably consistent with observations of starburst cores in which young stars and dust are homogeneously mixed. This model implies A V = 2-30 mag attenuation to the center of starburst cores, with a median of ∼9 mag (a factor of 4000). X-ray hardness ratios for six AGNs in our sample and column densities derived from observed dust masses and radio sizes independently confirm this level of attenuation. In these conditions observed optical/near-IR emission comes from surface regions, while inner starburst cores are invisible. We thus attribute the high [N ii]/H ratios to widespread shocks from accretion, turbulence, and dynamic disturbances rather than to AGNs. The large range of optical depths demonstrates that substantial diversity is present within the starburst population, possibly connected to different merger phases or progenitor properties. The majority of our targets are, in fact, morphologically classified as mergers. We argue that the extreme obscuration provides in itself smoking gun evidence of their merger origin, and a powerful tool for identifying mergers at even higher redshifts.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberL22
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Volume862
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2018
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • dust, extinction
  • galaxies: ISM
  • galaxies: evolution
  • galaxies: high-redshift
  • galaxies: starburst
  • infrared: galaxies

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