Broad Emission Lines in Optical Spectra of Hot, Dust-obscured Galaxies Can Contribute Significantly to JWST/NIRCam Photometry

April 2023 • 2023ApJ...946L..39M

Authors • McKinney, Jed • Finnerty, Luke • Casey, Caitlin M. • Franco, Maximilien • Long, Arianna S. • Fujimoto, Seiji • Zavala, Jorge A. • Cooper, Olivia • Akins, Hollis • Pope, Alexandra • Armus, Lee • Soifer, B. T. • Larson, Kirsten • Matthews, Keith • Melbourne, Jason • Cushing, Michael

Abstract • Selecting the first galaxies at z > 7 - 10 from JWST surveys is complicated by z < 6 contaminants with degenerate photometry. For example, strong optical nebular emission lines at z < 6 may mimic JWST/NIRCam photometry of z > 7-10 Lyman-break galaxies (LBGs). Dust-obscured 3 < z < 6 galaxies in particular are potentially important contaminants, and their faint rest-optical spectra have been historically difficult to observe. A lack of optical emission line and continuum measures for 3 < z < 6 dusty galaxies now makes it difficult to test their expected JWST/NIRCam photometry for degenerate solutions with NIRCam dropouts. Toward this end, we quantify the contribution by strong emission lines to NIRCam photometry in a physically motivated manner by stacking 21 Keck II/NIRES spectra of hot, dust-obscured, massive ( $\mathrm{log}{M}_{* }/{M}_{\odot }\gtrsim 10\mbox{--}11$ ) and infrared (IR) luminous galaxies at z ~ 1-4. We derive an average spectrum and measure strong narrow (broad) [O III]5007 and Hα features with equivalent widths of 130 ± 20 Å (150 ± 50 Å) and 220 ± 30 Å (540 ± 80 Å), respectively. These features can increase broadband NIRCam fluxes by factors of 1.2 - 1.7 (0.2-0.6 mag). Due to significant dust attenuation (A V ~ 6), we find Hα+[N II] to be significantly brighter than [O III]+Hβ and therefore find that emission-line dominated contaminants of high -z galaxy searches can only reproduce moderately blue perceived UV continua of S λ ∝ λ β with β > - 1.5 and z > 4. While there are some redshifts (z ~ 3.75) where our stack is more degenerate with the photometry of z > 10 LBGs at λ rest ~ 0.3-0.8 μm , redder filter coverage beyond λ obs > 3.5 μm and far-IR/submillimeter follow-up may be useful for breaking the degeneracy and making a crucial separation between two fairly unconstrained populations, dust-obscured galaxies at z ~ 3-6 and LBGs at z > 10.


IPAC Authors


Lee Armus

Senior Scientist