The Flux Ratio Method for Determining the Dust Attenuation of Starburst Galaxies

Gordon, Karl D., Clayton, Geoffrey C., Witt, Adolf N., & Misselt, K. A.
2000, The Astrophysical Journal, 533, 236


The presence of dust in starburst galaxies complicates the study of their stellar populations as the dust's effects are similar to those associated with changes in the galaxies' stellar ages and metallicities. This degeneracy can be overcome for starburst galaxies if UV/optical/near-infrared observations are combined with far-infrared observations. We present the calibration of the flux ratio method for calculating the dust attenuation at a particular wavelength, Att(λ), based on the measurement of the F(IR)/F(λ) flux ratio. Our calibration is based on spectral energy distributions from the PEGASE stellar evolutionary synthesis model and the effects of dust (absorption and scattering) as calculated from our Monte Carlo radiative transfer model. We tested the attenuations predicted from this method for the Balmer emission lines of a sample of starburst galaxies against those calculated using radio observations and found good agreement. The UV attenuation curves for a handful of starburst galaxies were calculated using the flux ratio method, and they compare favorably with past work. The relationship between Att(λ) and F(IR)/F(λ) is almost completely independent of the assumed dust properties (grain type, distribution, and clumpiness). For the UV, the relationship is also independent of the assumed stellar properties (age, metallicity, etc.) except for the case of very old burst populations. However, at longer wavelengths the relationship is dependent on the assumed stellar properties.

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