A Rest-frame Optical View on z ~ 4 Galaxies. I. Color and Age Distributions from Deep IRAC Photometry of the IUDF10 and GOODS Surveys

Oesch, P. A., Labbé, I., Bouwens, R. J., Illingworth, G. D., Gonzalez, V., Franx, M., Trenti, M., Holden, B. P., van Dokkum, P. G., and Magee, D


We present a study of rest-frame UV-to-optical color distributions for z ~ 4 galaxies based on the combination of deep HST/ACS+WFC3/IR data with Spitzer/IRAC imaging. In particular, we use new, ultra-deep data from the IRAC Ultradeep Field program (IUDF10), together with previous, public IRAC data over the GOODS fields. Our sample contains a total of ~2600 galaxies selected as B-dropout Lyman-break Galaxies in the HUDF and its deep parallel field HUDF09-2, as well as GOODS-North/South. This sample is used to investigate the UV continuum slopes β and Balmer break colors (J 125 - [4.5]) as a function of rest-frame optical luminosity (using [4.5] to avoid optical emission lines). We find that galaxies at Mz < -21.5 (roughly corresponding to L^*_{z\sim 4}) are significantly redder than their lower luminosity counterparts. The UV continuum slopes and the J 125 - [4.5] colors are well correlated, indicating that the dust reddening at these redshifts is better described by an SMC-like extinction curve, rather than the typically assumed Calzetti reddening. After dust correction, we find that the galaxy population shows mean stellar population ages in the range 108.5 to 109 yr, with a dispersion of ~0.5 dex, and only weak trends as a function of luminosity. Only a small fraction of galaxies shows Balmer break colors consistent with extremely young ages, younger than 100 Myr. Under the assumption of smooth star-formation histories, this fraction is 12%-19% for galaxies at Mz < -19.75. Our results are consistent with a gradual build-up of stars and dust in galaxies at z > 4 with only a small fraction of stars being formed in short, intense bursts of star-formation.

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