How the extinction of extragalactic background light affects surface photometry of galaxies, groups and clusters
2009 (English)In: Monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, ISSN 0035-8711, E-ISSN 1365-2966, Vol. 397, no 4, 2057-2069 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
The faint regions of galaxies, groups and clusters hold important clues about how these objects formed, and surface photometry at optical and near-infrared wavelengths represents a powerful tool for studying such structures. Here, we identify a hitherto unrecognized problem with this technique, related to how the night sky flux is typically measured and subtracted from astronomical images. While most of the sky flux comes from regions between the observer and the target object, a small fraction - the extragalactic background light (EBL) - comes from behind. We argue that since this part of the sky flux can be subjected to extinction by dust present in the galaxy/group/cluster studied, standard reduction procedures may lead to a systematic oversubtraction of the EBL. Even very small amounts of extinction can lead to spurious features in radial surface brightness profiles and colour maps of extended objects. We assess the likely impact of this effect on a number of topics in extragalactic astronomy where very deep surface photometry is currently attempted, including studies of stellar haloes, starburst host galaxies, disc truncations and diffuse intragroup/intracluster light. We argue that EBL extinction may provide at least a partial explanation for the anomalously red colours reported for the haloes of disc galaxies and for the hosts of local starburst galaxies. EBL extinction effects also mimic truncations in discs with unusually high dust opacities, but are unlikely to be the cause of such features in general. Failure to account for EBL extinction can also give rise to a non-negligible underestimate of intragroup and intracluster light at the faintest surface brightness levels currently probed. Finally, we discuss how EBL extinction effects may be exploited to provide an independent constraint on the surface brightness of the EBL, using a combination of surface photometry and direct star counts.
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2009. Vol. 397, no 4, 2057-2069 p.
dust, extinction, galaxies: clusters: general, galaxies: haloes, galaxies: photometry, galaxies: spirals, diffuse radiation
Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-36180DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2966.2009.15063.xISI: 000268958400032OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-36180DiVA: diva2:288935