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Durham University

Department of Physics

Staff profile

Publication details for Prof David Alexander

Hainline, L.J., Blain, A.W., Smail, I., Alexander, D.M., Armus, L., Chapman, S.C. & Ivison, R.J. (2011). The stellar mass content of submillimeter-selected galaxies. The astrophysical journal 740(2): 96.

Author(s) from Durham


We present a new study of stellar mass in a sample of ~70 submillimeter-selected galaxies (SMGs) with accurate spectroscopic redshifts. We fit combinations of stellar population synthesis models and power laws to the galaxies' observed-frame optical through mid-IR spectral energy distributions (SEDs) to separate stellar emission from non-stellar near-IR continuum. The availability of spectroscopic redshifts significantly enhances our ability to determine unambiguously not only the mass and luminosity of SMGs, but also the presence and contribution of non-stellar emission to their SEDs. By separating the stellar emission from the non-stellar near-IR continuum, we find that ~50% of our sample have non-stellar contributions of less than 10% in rest-frame H band and ~10% of our sample have non-stellar contributions greater than 50%. We find that the K-band luminosity of the non-stellar continuum emission is correlated with hard X-ray luminosity, indicating an active galactic nucleus (AGN) origin of the emission. Upon subtracting this AGN-contributed continuum component from all of the galaxies in our sample, we determine a lower median stellar mass for SMGs than previous studies, ~7 × 1010 M sun. We use constraints of the starburst timescale from molecular gas studies to estimate the amount of fading our sample would undergo if they passively evolve after the starburst terminates. The results suggest that typical SMGs, while among the most massive galaxies at z ~ 2, are likely to produce descendants of similar mass and luminosity to L* galaxies in the local universe.