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Uncovering the stellar structure of the dusty star-forming galaxy GN20 at z = 4.055 with MIRI/JWST

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posted on 2023-06-20, 09:39 authored by L Colina, A Crespo Gómez, J Álvarez-Márquez, A Bik, F Walter, L Boogaard, A Labiano, F Peissker, P Pérez-González, G Östlin, TR Greve, HU Nørgaard-Nielsen, G Wright, A Alonso-Herrero, R Azollini, KI Caputi, D Dicken, M García-Marín, J Hjorth, O Ilbert, S Kendrew, JP Pye, T Tikkanen, P van der Werf, L Costantin, E Iani, S Gillman, I Jermann, D Langeroodi, T Moutard, P Rinaldi, M Topinka, EF van Dishoeck, M Güdel, Th Henning, PO Lagage, T Ray, B Vandenbussche
Luminous infrared galaxies at high redshifts (z > 4) include extreme starbursts that build their stellar mass over short periods of time, that is, of 100 Myr or less. These galaxies are considered to be the progenitors of massive quiescent galaxies at intermediate redshifts (z ∼ 2) but their stellar structure and buildup is unknown. Here, we present the first spatially resolved near-infrared (rest-frame 1.1 μm) imaging of GN20, one of the most luminous dusty star-forming galaxies known to date, observed at an epoch when the Universe was only 1.5 Gyr old. The 5.6 μm image taken with the JWST Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI/JWST) shows that GN20 is a very luminous galaxy (M1.1 μm,  AB = −25.01, uncorrected for internal extinction), with a stellar structure composed of a conspicuous central source and an extended envelope. The central source is an unresolved nucleus that carries 9% of the total flux. The nucleus is co-aligned with the peak of the cold dust emission, and offset by 3.9 kpc from the ultraviolet stellar emission. The diffuse stellar envelope is similar in size (3.6 kpc effective radius) to the clumpy CO molecular gas distribution. The centroid of the stellar envelope is offset by 1 kpc from the unresolved nucleus, suggesting GN20 is involved in an interaction or merger event supported by its location as the brightest galaxy in a proto-cluster. Additional faint stellar clumps appear to be associated with some of the UV- and CO-clumps. The stellar size of GN20 is larger by a factor of about 3 to 5 than known spheroids, disks, and irregulars at z ∼ 4, while its size and low Sérsic index are similar to those measured in dusty, infrared luminous galaxies at redshift 2 of the same mass (∼1011 M⊙). GN20 has all the ingredients necessary for evolving into a massive spheroidal quiescent galaxy at intermediate redshift: it is a large, luminous galaxy at z = 4.05 involved in a short and massive starburst centred in the stellar nucleus and extended over the entire galaxy, out to radii of 4 kpc, and likely induced by the interaction or merger with a member of the proto-cluster.


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School of Physics & Astronomy, University of Leicester


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