The role of merger stage on galaxy radio spectra in local infrared-bright starburst galaxies.
Abstract (from CDS):
An investigation of the steep, high-frequency (i.e., ν ∼ 12 GHz) radio spectra among a sample of 31 local infrared-bright starburst galaxies is carried out in light of their Hubble-Space-Telescope-based merger classifications. Radio data covering as many as 10 individual bands allow for spectral indices to be measured over three frequency bins between 0.15 and 32.5 GHz. Sources having the flattest spectral indices measured at ∼2 and 4 GHz, arising from large free-free optical depths among the densest starbursts, appear to be in ongoing through post-stage mergers. The spectral indices measured at higher frequencies (i.e., ∼12 GHz) are steepest for sources associated with ongoing mergers in which their nuclei are distinct, but share a common stellar envelope and/or exhibit tidal tails. These results hold after excluding potential active galactic nuclei based on their low 6.2 µm polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon equivalent widths. Consequently, the low-, mid-, and high-frequency spectral indices each appear to be sensitive to the exact merger stage. It is additionally shown that ongoing mergers, whose progenitors are still separated and share a common envelope and/or exhibit tidal tails, also exhibit excess radio emission relative to what is expected given the far-infrared/radio correlation, suggesting that there may be a significant amount of radio emission that is not associated with ongoing star formation. The combination of these observations, along with high-resolution radio morphologies, leads to a picture in which the steep high-frequency radio spectral indices and excess radio emission arise from radio continuum bridges and tidal tails that are not associated with star formation, similar to what is observed for so-called "taffy" galaxies. This scenario may also explain the seemingly low far-infrared/radio ratios measured for many high-z submillimeter galaxies, a number of which are merger-driven starbursts.
galaxies: active - galaxies: starburst - infrared: galaxies - radio continuum: galaxies - stars: formation