James Webb Space Telescope Feed Post

Date: 5/14/2024

Harvard ADS: JWST's PEARLS: resolved study of the stellar and dust components in starburst galaxies at cosmic noon

Paper abstract: Dusty star-forming galaxies (DSFGs) contribute significantly to the stellar buildup at cosmic noon. Major mergers and gas accretion are often invoked to explain DSFGs' prodigious star-formation rates (SFRs) and large stellar masses. We conducted a spatially-resolved morphological analysis of the rest-frame UV/NIR emission in three DSFGs at z~2.5. Initially discovered as CO emitters by NOEMA observations of a bright Herschel source, we observed them with the JWST/NIRCam as part of the PEARLS program. The NIRCam data reveal the galaxies' stellar population and dust distribution on scales of 250 pc. Spatial variations in stellar mass, SFR, and dust extinction are determined in resolved maps obtained through pixel-based SED fitting. The CO emitters are massive, dusty starburst galaxies with SFRs ranging from 340 to 2500 Msun/yr, positioning them among the most active SFGs at 2 < z < 3. Notably, they belong to the ~1.5% of the entire JWST population with extremely red colors. Their morphologies are disk-like, with effective radii of 2.0-4.4 kpc, and exhibit sub-structures such as clumps and spiral arms. The galaxies have dust extinctions up to Av=5-7 mag with asymmetric distributions extending over several kpc and including off-center regions resembling bent spiral arms and clumps. The NIR dust-attenuation curve in these sources deviates from standard laws, implying different dust grain properties than commonly assumed in starburst galaxies. The proximity of galaxies with consistent redshifts, strong color gradients, overall disturbed appearance, asymmetric dust obscuration, and wide-spread star formation favor interactions (minor mergers and flybys) as the mechanism driving the CO galaxies' exceptional SFRs. Their large masses and rich environment hint at membership in two proto-structures, as initially inferred from their association with a Planck-selected high-z source.