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2004ApJ...613..986P - Astrophys. J., 613, 986-1003 (2004/October-1)

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as a tracer of star formation?


Abstract (from CDS):

Infrared (IR) emission features at 3.3, 6.2, 7.7, 8.6, and 11.3 µm are generally attributed to IR fluorescence from (mainly) far-ultraviolet (FUV) pumped large polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) molecules. As such, these features trace the FUV stellar flux and are thus a measure of star formation. We examined the IR spectral characteristics of Galactic massive star-forming regions and of normal and starburst galaxies, as well as active galactic nuclei (AGNs) and ultraluminous infrared galaxies (ULIRGs). The goal of this study is to analyze whether PAH features are a good qualitative and/or quantitative tracer of star formation, and hence to evaluate the application of PAH emission as a diagnostic tool in order to identify the dominant processes contributing to the infrared emission from Seyfert galaxies and ULIRGs. We develop a new mid-infrared (MIR)/far-infrared (FIR) diagnostic diagram based on our Galactic sample and compare it to the diagnostic tools of Genzel and coworkers and Laurent and coworkers, with these diagnostic tools also applied to our Galactic sample. This MIR/FIR diagnostic is derived from the FIR normalized 6.2 µm PAH flux and the FIR normalized 6.2 µm continuum flux. Within this diagram, the Galactic sources form a sequence spanning a range of 3 orders of magnitude in these ratios, ranging from embedded compact H II regions to exposed photodissociation regions (PDRs) and the (diffuse) interstellar medium (ISM). However, the variation in the 6.2 µm PAH feature-to-continuum ratio is relative small. Comparison of our extragalactic sample with our Galactic sources revealed an excellent resemblance of normal and starburst galaxies to exposed PDRs. While Seyfert 2 galaxies coincide with the starburst trend, Seyfert 1 galaxies are displaced by at least a factor of 10 in 6.2 µm continuum flux, in accordance with general orientation-dependent unification schemes for AGNs. ULIRGs show a diverse spectral appearance. Some show a typical AGN hot dust continuum. More, however, either are starburst-like or show signs of strong dust obscuration in the nucleus. One characteristic of the ULIRGs also seems to be the presence of more prominent FIR emission than either starburst galaxies or AGNs. We discuss the observed variation in the Galactic sample in view of the evolutionary state and the PAH/dust abundance and discuss the use of PAHs as quantitative tracers of star formation activity. Based on these investigations, we find that PAHs may be better suited as a tracer of B stars, which dominate the Galactic stellar energy budget, than as a tracer of massive star formation (O stars).

Abstract Copyright:

Journal keyword(s): Galaxies: ISM - ISM: H II Regions - Infrared: Galaxies - Infrared: ISM - ISM: Lines and Bands - ISM: Molecules

CDS comments: p.992, source 05189-2424 not identified

Simbad objects: 122

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