The Incidence of Highly Obscured Star-forming Regions in SINGS Galaxies

Prescott, Moire K. M., Kennicutt, Robert C., Jr., Bendo, George J., Buckalew, Brent A., Calzetti, Daniela, Engelbracht, Charles W., Gordon, Karl D., Hollenbach, David J., Lee, Janice C., Moustakas, John, Dale, Daniel A., Helou, George, Jarrett, Thomas H., Murphy, Eric J., Smith, John-David T., Akiyama, Sanae, & Sosey, Megan L.
2007, The Astrophysical Journal, 668, 182


Using the new capabilities of Spitzer and extensive multiwavelength data from SINGS, it is now possible to study the infrared properties of star formation in nearby galaxies down to scales equivalent to large H II regions. We are therefore able to determine what fraction of large, infrared-selected star-forming regions in normal galaxies are highly obscured and address how much of the star formation we miss by relying solely on the optical portion of the spectrum. Employing a new empirical method for deriving attenuations of infrared-selected star-forming regions, we investigate the statistics of obscured star formation on 500 pc scales in a sample of 38 nearby galaxies. We find that the median attenuation is 1.4 mag in Hα and that there is no evidence for a substantial subpopulation of uniformly highly obscured star-forming regions. The regions in the highly obscured tail of the attenuation distribution (AHα>~3) make up only ~4% of the sample of nearly 1800 regions, although very embedded infrared sources on the much smaller scales and lower luminosities of compact and ultracompact H II regions are almost certainly present in greater numbers. The highly obscured cases in our sample are generally the bright, central regions of galaxies with high overall attenuation but are not otherwise remarkable. We also find that a majority of the galaxies show decreasing radial trends in Hα attenuation. The small fraction of highly obscured regions seen in this sample of normal, star-forming galaxies suggests that on 500 pc scales the timescale for significant dispersal or breakup of nearby, optically thick dust clouds is short relative to the lifetime of a typical star-forming region.

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