Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon excitation in nearby spiral galaxies

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We have examined polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) excitation in a sample of 25 nearby face-on spiral galaxies using the ratio of mid-infrared PAH emission to dust mass. Within 11 of the galaxies, we found that the PAH excitation was straightforwardly linked to ultraviolet (UV) or mid-infrared star formation tracers, which, along with other results studying the relation of PAH emission to star formation, indicates that the PAHs are most strongly excited in dusty shells around the star-forming (SF) regions. Within another five galaxies, the PAH emission is enhanced around SF regions only at specific galactocentric radii. In six more galaxies, PAH excitation is more strongly correlated with the evolved stellar populations as traced by 3.6 μm emission. The results for the remaining three galaxies were ambiguous. The radial gradients of the PAH/dust ratios were generally not linked to log(O/H) gradients except when the log(O/H) gradients were relatively steep. Galaxies in which PAHs were excited by evolved stars had relatively high far-UV to mid-infrared ratios, implying that variations in the link between PAH excitation and different stellar populations are connected to changes in dust attenuation within galaxies. Alternately, differences in morphology could make it more likely that PAHs are excited by evolved stars, as five of the six galaxies where this occurs are late-type flocculent spiral galaxies. These heterogeneous results demonstrate the complexity of describing PAH excitation and have broad implications for using PAH emission as a star formation tracer as well as for modelling dust emission and radiative transfer.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Early online date8 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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