A Theory for the Variation of Dust Attenuation Laws in Galaxies

Desika Narayanan, Charlie Conroy, Romeel Davé, Benjamin D. Johnson, Gergö Popping

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In this paper, we provide a physical model for the origin of variations in the shapes and bump strengths of dust attenuation laws in galaxies by combining a large suite of cosmological "zoom-in" galaxy formation simulations with 3D Monte Carlo dust radiative transfer calculations. We model galaxies over three orders of magnitude in stellar mass, ranging from Milky Way-like systems to massive galaxies at high redshift. Critically, for these calculations, we employ a constant underlying dust extinction law in all cases and examine how the role of geometry and radiative transfer effects impacts the resultant attenuation curves. Our main results follow. Despite our usage of a constant dust extinction curve, we find dramatic variations in the derived attenuation laws. The slopes of normalized attenuation laws depend primarily on the complexities of star-to-dust geometry. Increasing fractions of unobscured young stars flatten normalized curves, while increasing fractions of unobscured old stars steepen curves. Similar to the slopes of our model attenuation laws, we find dramatic variation in the 2175 ultraviolet bump strength, including a subset of curves with little to no bump. These bump strengths are primarily influenced by the fraction of unobscured O and B stars in our model, with the impact of scattered light having only a secondary effect. Taken together, these results lead to a natural relationship between the attenuation curve slope and 2175 bump strength. Finally, we apply these results to a 25 Mpc h -1 box cosmological hydrodynamic simulation in order to model the expected dispersion in attenuation laws at integer redshifts from z = 0 to 6. A significant dispersion is expected at low redshifts and decreases toward z = 6. We provide tabulated results for the best-fit median attenuation curve at all redshifts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number70
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13 Dec 2018

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • dust extinction
  • galaxies: ISM


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