Document Type


Publication Date



Physics and Astronomy


The effective extinction law (attenuation behavior) in galaxies in the emitted ultraviolet (UV) regime is well known only for actively star-forming objects and combines effects of the grain properties, fine structure in the dust distribution, and relative distributions of stars and dust. We use Galaxy Evolution Explorer, XMM Optical Monitor, and Hubble Space Telescope (HST) data to explore the UV attenuation in the outer parts of spiral disks which are backlit by other UV-bright galaxies, starting with the candidate list of pairs provided by Galaxy Zoo participants. New optical images help to constrain the geometry and structure of the target galaxies. Our analysis incorporates galaxy symmetry, using non-overlapping regions of each galaxy to derive error estimates on the attenuation measurements. The entire sample has an attenuation law across the optical and UV that is close to the Calzetti et al. form; the UV slope for the overall sample is substantially shallower than found by Wild et al., which is a reasonable match to the more distant galaxies in our sample but not to the weighted combination including NGC 2207. The nearby, bright spiral NGC 2207 alone gives an accuracy almost equal to the rest of our sample, and its outer arms have a very low level of foreground starlight. Thus, this widespread, fairly “gray” law can be produced from the distribution of dust alone, without a necessary contribution from differential escape of stars from dense clouds. Our results indicate that the extrapolation needed to compare attenuation between backlit galaxies at moderate redshifts from HST data, and local systems from Sloan Digital Sky Survey and similar data, is mild enough to allow the use of galaxy overlaps to trace the cosmic history of dust in galaxies. For NGC 2207, HST data in the near-UV F336W band show that the covering factor of clouds with small optical attenuation becomes a dominant factor farther into the UV, which opens the possibility that widespread diffuse dust dominates over dust in star-forming regions deep into the UV. Comparison with published radiative-transfer models indicates that the role of dust clumping dominates over differences in grain populations at this coarse spatial resolution.


Copyright 2014. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.

Original Publication Information

Keel, William C., et al. "The Ultraviolet Attenuation Law in Backlit Spiral Galaxies." 2014. The Astronomical Journal 147(2): 14 pp.