The color of galaxies is a fundamental property, easily measured, that constrains models of galaxies and their evolution. Dust attenuation and star formation history (SFH) are the dominant factors affecting the color of galaxies. Here we explore the empirical relation between SFH, attenuation, and color for a wide range of galaxies, including early types. These galaxies have been observed by GALEX, SDSS, and Spitzer, allowing the construction of measures of dust attenuation from the ratio of infrared (IR) to ultraviolet (UV) flux and measures of SFH from the strength of the 4000 Å break. The empirical relation between these three quantities is compared to models that separately predict the effects of dust and SFH on color. This comparison demonstrates the quantitative consistency of these simple models with the data and hints at the power of multiwavelength data for constraining these models. The UV color is a strong constraint; we find that a Milky Way extinction curve is disfavored, and that the UV emission of galaxies with large 4000 Å break strengths is likely to arise from evolved populations. We perform fits to the relation between SFH, attenuation, and color. This relation links the production of starlight and its absorption by dust to the subsequent reemission of the absorbed light in the IR. Galaxy models that self-consistently treat dust absorption and emission as well as stellar populations will need to reproduce these fitted relations in the low-redshift universe.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science