We present a simple, largely empirical but physically motivated model to interpret the mid- and far-infrared spectral energy distributions of galaxies consistently with the emission at ultraviolet, optical and near-infrared wavelengths. Our model relies on an existing angle-averaged prescription to compute the absorption of starlight by dust in stellar birth clouds and in the ambient interstellar medium (ISM) in galaxies. We compute the spectral energy distribution of the power reradiated by dust in stellar birth clouds as the sum of three components: a component of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs); a mid-infrared continuum characterizing the emission from hot grains at temperatures in the range 130-250 K; and a component of grains in thermal equilibrium with adjustable temperature in the range 30-60 K. In the ambient ISM, we fix for simplicity the relative proportions of these three components to reproduce the spectral shape of diffuse cirrus emission in the Milky Way, and we include a component of cold grains in thermal equilibrium with adjustable temperature in the range 15-25 K. Our model is both simple and versatile enough that it can be used to derive statistical constraints on the star formation histories and dust contents of large samples of galaxies using a wide range of ultraviolet, optical and infrared observations. We illustrate this by deriving median likelihood estimates of the star formation rates, stellar masses, effective dust optical depths, dust masses and relative strengths of different dust components of 66 well-studied nearby star-forming galaxies from the Spitzer Infrared Nearby Galaxy Survey (SINGS). We explore how the constraints derived in this way depend on the available spectral information. From our analysis of the SINGS sample, we conclude that the mid- and far-infrared colours of galaxies correlate strongly with the specific star formation rate, as well as with other galaxy-wide quantities connected to this parameter, such as the ratio of infrared luminosity between stellar birth clouds and the ambient ISM, the contributions by PAHs and grains in thermal equilibrium to the total infrared emission, and the ratio of dust mass to stellar mass. Our model can be straightforwardly applied to interpret ultraviolet, optical and infrared spectral energy distributions from any galaxy sample.
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
- Pub Date:
- August 2008
- galaxies: ISM;
- galaxies: stellar content;
- infrared: galaxies;
- 27 pages, 15 figures, accepted for publication in MNRAS. Full-resolution figures available from ftp://ftp.iap.fr/pub/from_users/dacunha/fullres_figures