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  • 2201.07478

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    Embargo ends: 26/11/22

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Low gas-phase metallicities of ultraluminous infrared galaxies are a result of dust obscuration

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

Published
  • Nima Chartab
  • Asantha Cooray
  • Jingzhe Ma
  • Hooshang Nayyeri
  • Preston Zilliot
  • Jonathan Lopez
  • Dario Fadda
  • Rodrigo Herrera-Camus
  • Matthew Malkan
  • Dimitra Rigopoulou
  • Kartik Sheth
  • Julie Wardlow
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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>31/07/2022
<mark>Journal</mark>Nature Astronomy
Volume6
Number of pages6
Pages (from-to)844–849
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date26/05/22
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

Optical spectroscopic measurements show that gas in dusty, starbursting galaxies known as ultraluminous infrared galaxies (ULIRGs) in the local Universe has a significantly lower metal content than that of gas in star-forming galaxies with similar masses. This low metal content has resulted in the claim that ULIRGs are primarily fuelled by metal-poor gas falling into those galaxy merger systems from large distances. Here we report a new set of gas-phase metal abundance measurements taken in local ULIRGs using emission lines at far-infrared wavelengths tracing oxygen and nitrogen. These new data show that ULIRGs lie on the fundamental metallicity relation determined by the stellar mass, metal abundance and star formation rate as the key observational parameters. Instead of metal-poor gas accretion, the new data suggest that the underabundance of metals derived from optical emission lines is probably due to heavy dust obscuration associated with the starburst. As dust-obscured, infrared-bright galaxies dominate the star formation rate density of the Universe during the peak epoch of star formation, we caution the use of rest-frame optical measurements alone to study the metal abundances of galaxies at redshifts of 2–3.

Bibliographic note

The Author's Accepted Manuscript (the accepted version of the manuscript as submitted by the author) may only be posted 6 months after the paper is published, consistent with our self-archiving embargo. Please note that the Author’s Accepted Manuscript may not be released under a Creative Commons license. For Nature Research Terms of Reuse of archived manuscripts please see: http://www.nature.com/authors/policies/license.html#terms