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Published December 20, 2006 | Published
Journal Article Open

The mid-infrared properties of starburst galaxies from Spitzer-IRS spectroscopy


We present 5-38 μm mid-infrared spectra at a spectral resolution of R ≈ 65-130 of a large sample of 22 starburst nuclei taken with the Infrared Spectrograph (IRS) on board the Spitzer Space Telescope. The spectra show a vast range of starburst SEDs. The silicate absorption ranges from essentially no absorption to heavily obscured systems with an optical depth of τ_(9.8 μm) ~ 5. The spectral slopes can be used to discriminate between starburst and AGN powered sources. The monochromatic continuum fluxes at 15 and 30 μm enable a remarkably accurate estimate of the total infrared luminosity of the starburst. We find that the PAH equivalent width is independent of the total starburst luminosity L_(IR) as both continuum and PAH feature scale proportionally. However, the luminosity of the 6.2 μm feature scales with L_(IR) and can be used to approximate the total infrared luminosity of the starburst. Although our starburst sample covers about a factor of 10 difference in the [Ne III]/[Ne II] ratio, we found no systematic correlation between the radiation field hardness and the PAH equivalent width or the 7.7 μm/11.3 μm PAH ratio. These results are based on spatially integrated diagnostics over an entire starburst region, and local variations may be "averaged out." It is presumably due to this effect that unresolved starburst nuclei with significantly different global properties appear spectrally as rather similar members of one class of objects.

Additional Information

© 2006 The American Astronomical Society. Received 2005 November 11; accepted 2006 August 31. This work is based on observations made with the Spitzer Space Telescope, which is operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under NASA contract 1407. Support for this work was provided by NASA through contract 1257184 issued by JPL/Caltech.

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