Quantifying the poor purity and completeness of morphological samples selected by galaxy colour

Rebecca J Smethurst, Karen L Masters, Brooke D Simmons, Izzy L Garland, Tobias Géron, Boris Häußler, Sandor Kruk, Chris J Lintott, David O’Ryan, Mike Walmsley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The galaxy population is strongly bimodal in both colour and morphology, and the two measures correlate strongly, with most blue galaxies being late-types (spirals) and most early-types, typically ellipticals, being red. This observation has led to the use of colour as a convenient selection criterion to make samples that are then labelled by morphology. Such use of colour as a proxy for morphology results in necessarily impure and incomplete samples. In this paper, we make use of the morphological labels produced by Galaxy Zoo to measure how incomplete and impure such samples are, considering optical (ugriz), near-ultraviolet (NUV), and near-infrared (NIR; JHK) bands. The best single colour optical selection is found using a threshold of g - r = 0.742, but this still results in a sample where only 56 per cent of red galaxies are smooth and 56 per cent of smooth galaxies are red. Use of the NUV gives some improvement over purely optical bands, particularly for late-types, but still results in low purity/completeness for early-types. No significant improvement is found by adding NIR bands. With any two bands, including NUV, a sample of early-types with greater than two-thirds purity cannot be constructed. Advances in quantitative galaxy morphologies have made colour-morphology proxy selections largely unnecessary going forward; where such assumptions are still required, we recommend studies carefully consider the implications of sample incompleteness/impurity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4126-4133
Number of pages8
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
Early online date11 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022


  • Galaxies: abundances
  • Galaxies: disc
  • Galaxies: elliptical and lenticular
  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: statistics
  • Galaxies: structure
  • cD


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