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Dust temperature uncertainties hamper the inference of molecular gas masses from the dust continuum emission of high-redshift galaxies

Presentation #123.02 in the session Evolution of Galaxies II.

Published onJun 29, 2022
Dust temperature uncertainties hamper the inference of molecular gas masses from the dust continuum emission of high-redshift galaxies

Single flux density measurements at observed-frame sub-millimeter and millimeter wavelengths are commonly used to probe dust and gas masses in galaxies. We explore the robustness of this method to infer dust mass for both star-forming and quiescent galaxies, using a series of controlled experiments on four massive haloes from the Feedback in Realistic Environments (FIRE) project. Our starting point is four star-forming, central galaxies at seven redshifts between z=1.5 and z=4.5. We generate modified quiescent galaxies that have been quenched for 10Myr, 500Myr, or 1Gyr prior to each of the studied redshifts by re-assigning stellar ages. We derive spectral energy distributions for each fiducial and modified galaxy using radiative transfer. We demonstrate that the dust mass inferred is highly dependent on the assumed dust temperature, Tdust which is often unconstrained observationally. Inspired by recent work on quiescent galaxies that assumed Tdust~25K, we show that the ratio between dust mass and 1.3mm flux density can be higher than inferred by up to an order of magnitude, due to the considerably lower dust temperatures seen in non star-forming galaxies. This can lead to an underestimation of dust mass (and, when sub-mm flux density is used as a proxy for molecular gas content, gas mass). This underestimation is most severe at higher redshifts, where the observed-frame 1.3mm flux density probes rest-frame wavelengths far from the Rayleigh-Jeans regime, and hence depends super-linearly on dust temperature. We fit relations between ratios of rest-frame far-infrared flux densities and mass-weighted dust temperature that can be used to constrain dust temperatures from observations and hence derive more reliable dust and molecular gas masses.

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