Journal Article

New insight into the relation between star formation activity and dust content in galaxies

Elisabete da Cunha, Celine Eminian, Stéphane Charlot and Jérémy Blaizot

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 403, issue 4, pages 1894-1908
Published in print April 2010 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online April 2010 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
New insight into the relation between star formation activity and dust content in galaxies

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We assemble a sample of 3258 low-redshift galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Data Release 6 with complementary photometric observations by the Galaxy Evolution Explorer, the Two Micron All Sky Survey and the Infrared Astronomical Satellite at far-ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths. We use a recent, simple but physically motivated model to interpret the observed spectral energy distributions of the galaxies in this sample in terms of statistical constraints on physical parameters describing the star formation history and dust content. The focus on a subsample of 1658 galaxies with highest signal-to-noise ratio observations enables us to investigate most clearly several strong correlations between various derived physical properties of galaxies. In particular, we find that the typical dust mass Md of a galaxy forming stars at a rate ψ can be estimated remarkably well using the formula over at least three orders of magnitude in both quantities. We also find that the dust-to-stellar mass ratio, the ratio of dust mass to star formation rate and the fraction of dust luminosity contributed by the diffuse interstellar medium (ISM) all correlate strongly with specific star formation rate. A comparison with recent models of chemical and dust evolution of galaxies suggests that these correlations could arise, at least in part, from an evolutionary sequence. As galaxies form stars, their ISM becomes enriched in dust, while the drop in gas supply makes the specific star formation rate decrease. Interestingly, as a result, a young, actively star-forming galaxy with low dust-to-gas ratio may still be highly dusty (in the sense of a high dust-to-stellar mass ratio) because it contains large amounts of interstellar gas. This may be important for the interpretation of the infrared emission from young, gas-rich star-forming galaxies at high redshift. The results presented in this paper should be especially useful to improve the treatment of the ISM properties of galaxies in semi-analytic models of galaxy formation. Our study also provides a useful local reference for future statistical studies of the star formation and dust properties of galaxies at high redshifts.

Keywords: dust, extinction; galaxies: evolution; galaxies: ISM; galaxies: statistics; galaxies: stellar content

Journal Article.  12063 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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