Using Multiple Emission Line Ratios to Constrain the Slope of the Dust Attenuation Law Academic Article uri icon


  • Abstract We explore the possibility and practical limitations of using a three-line approach to measure both the slope and normalization of the dust attenuation law in individual galaxies. To do this, we focus on a sample of 11 galaxies with existing ground-based Balmer H and H measurements from slit spectra, plus space-based grism constraints on Paschen-. When accounting for observational uncertainties, we show that one galaxy has a well-constrained dust-law slope and normalization in the range expected from theoretical arguments; this galaxy therefore provides an example of what may be possible in the future. However, most of the galaxies are best fit by unusually steep or shallow slopes. We then explore whether additional astrophysical effects or observational biases could explain the elevated Paschen-/H ratios driving these results. We find that galaxies with high Paschen-/H ratios may be explained by slightly sub-unity covering fractions (>97%). Alternatively, differing slit losses for different lines can have a large impact on the results, emphasizing the importance of measuring all three lines with a consistent spectroscopic aperture. We conclude that, while the three-line approach to constraining the shape of the dust attenuation law in individual galaxies is promising, deep observations and a consistent observational strategy will be required to minimize observational biases and to disentangle the astrophysically interesting effect of differing covering fractions. The James Webb Space Telescope will provide more sensitive measurements of Balmer and Paschen lines for galaxies at z 0.32, enabling uniform constraints on the opticalinfrared dust attenuation law and its intrinsic variation.

published proceedings

  • The Astrophysical Journal

author list (cited authors)

  • Prescott, M., Finlator, K. M., Cleri, N. J., Trump, J. R., & Papovich, C.

complete list of authors

  • Prescott, Moire KM||Finlator, Kristian M||Cleri, Nikko J||Trump, Jonathan R||Papovich, Casey

publication date

  • March 2022