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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The role of submillimetre galaxies in galaxy evolution Pope, Erin Alexandra


This thesis presents a comprehensive study of high redshift submillimetre galaxies (SMGs) using the deepest multi-wavelength observations. The submm sample consists of galaxies detected at 850 μm with the Submillimetre Common User Bolometer Array (SCUBA) in the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey-North region. Using the deep Spitzer Space Telescope images and new data and reductions of the Very Large Array radio data, I find statistically secure counterparts for 60% of the submm sample, and identify tentative counterparts for most of the remaining objects. This is the largest sample of submm galaxies with statistically secure counterparts detected in the radio and with Spitzer. This thesis presents spectral energy distributions (SEDs), Spitzer colours, and infrared (IR) luminosities for the SMGs. A composite rest-frame SED shows that the submm sources peak at longer wavelengths than those of local ultraluminous IR galaxies (ULIRGs), i.e. they appear to be cooler than local ULIRGs of the same luminosity. This demonstrates the strong selection effects, both locally and at high redshift, which may lead to an incomplete census of the ULIRG population. The SEDs of submm galaxies are also different from those of their high redshift neighbours, the near-IR selected BzK galaxies, whose mid-IR to radio SEDs are more like those of local ULIRGs. I fit templates that span the mid-IR through radio to derive the integrated 1R luminosities of the submm galaxies and find a median value of L[sub IR](8-1000 μm) = 6.0 x 10¹²L [Special characters omitted] . I also find that submm flux densities by themselves systematically overpredict L[sub IR] when using templates which obey the local ULIRG temperature-luminosity relation. The SED fits show that SMGs are consistent with the correlation between radio and IR luminosity observed in local galaxies. Because the shorter Spitzer wavelengths sample the stellar bump at the redshifts of the submm sources, one can obtain a model independent estimate of the redshift, σ(Δz /(1 + z )) = 0.07. The median redshift of the secure submm counterparts is 2.0. Using X-ray and mid-IR imaging data, only 5% of the secure counterparts show strong evidence for an active galactic nucleus (AGN) dominating the IR luminosity. This thesis also presents deep Spitzer mid-IR spectroscopy of 13 of these SMGs in order to determine the contribution from AGN and starburst emission to the IR luminosity. I find strong polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) emission features in all of the targets, while only 2/13 SMGs have a significant mid-IR rising power-law component which would indicate an AGN. In the high signal-to-noise ratio composite spectrum of the SMGs I find that the AGN component contributes at most 30% of the mid-IR luminosity, implying that the total L[sub IR] in SMGs is dominated by star formation and not AGN emission. I also find that the SMGs lie on the relation between the luminosity of the main PAH features and L[sub IR] established for local starburst galaxies, confirming that the PAH luminosity can be used as a proxy for the star formation rate. Interestingly, local ULIRGs, which are often thought to be the low redshift analogues of SMGs, lie off these relations, as they appear deficient in PAH luminosity for a given L[sub IR]. In terms of an evolutionary scenario for IR luminous galaxies, SMGs are consistent with being an earlier phase in the massive merger (compared with other local or high redshift ULIRGs) in which the AGN has not yet become strong enough to heat the dust and dilute the PAH emission. I further investigate the overlap between high redshift infrared and submm populations using a statistical stacking analysis to measure the contribution of near- and mid-IR galaxy populations to the 850 μm submm background. For the first time, it is found that the 850 μm background can be completely resolved into individual galaxies and the bulk of these galaxies lie at z [Less-than sign over tilde] 3. Additionally I present a detailed study of the most distant SMG discovered to date, which I call GN20. This unusually bright source led to the discovery of a high redshift galaxy cluster, which is likely to be lensing the SMG. I discuss the potential for using bright SMGs in future submm surveys to identify high redshift clusters. Finally, for this complete sample of SMGs, I present the cumulative flux distribution at X-ray, optical, IR and radio wavelengths and I determine the depths at which one can expect to detect the majority of submm galaxies in future mm/submm surveys, such as with SCUBA-2, the successor to SCUBA.

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