Metallicity Effects on Mid-Infrared Colors and the 8 μm PAH Emission in Galaxies

Engelbracht, C. W., Gordon, K. D., Rieke, G. H., Werner, M. W., Dale, D. A., & Latter, W. B.
2005, The Astrophysical Journal, 628, L29

We examine colors from 3.6 to 24 μm as a function of metallicity (O/H) for a sample of 34 galaxies. The galaxies range over 2 orders of magnitude in metallicity. They display an abrupt shift in the 8 μm-to-24 μm color for metallicities between one-third and one-fifth of the solar value. The mean 8-to-24 μm flux density ratio below and above 12+log(O/H)=8.2 is 0.08+/-0.04 and 0.70+/-0.53, respectively. We use mid-IR colors and spectroscopy to demonstrate that the shift is primarily due to a decrease in the 8 μm flux density, as opposed to an increase in the 24 μm flux density. This result is most simply interpreted as being due to a weakening at low metallicity of the mid-IR emission bands usually attributed to PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) relative to the small-grain dust emission. However, existing empirical spectral energy distribution models cannot account for the observed short-wavelength (below 8 μm) colors of the low-metallicity galaxies merely by reducing the strength of the PAH features; some other emission source (e.g., hot dust) is required.


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