Characterizing the evolving K -band luminosity function using the UltraVISTA, CANDELS and HUDF surveys

Alice Mortlock, Ross J. McLure, Rebecca A. A. Bowler, Derek J. McLeod, Esther Mármol-Queraltó, Shaghayegh Parsa, James S. Dunlop, Victoria A. Bruce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We present the results of a new study of the K-band galaxy luminosity function (KLF) at redshifts z ≤ 3.75, based on a nested combination of the UltraVISTA, Cosmic Assembly Near-infrared Deep Legacy Extragalactic Survey and HUDF surveys. The large dynamic range in luminosity spanned by this new data set (3-4 dex over the full redshift range) is sufficient to clearly demonstrate for the first time that the faint-end slope of the KLF at z ≥ 0.25 is relatively steep (-1.3 ≤ α ≤ -1.5 for a single Schechter function), in good agreement with recent theoretical and phenomenological models. Moreover, based on our new data set, we find that a double Schechter function provides a significantly improved description of the KLF at z ≤ 2. At redshifts z ≥ 0.25, the evolution of the KLF is remarkably smooth, with little or no evolution evident at faint (MK ≥ -20.5) or bright magnitudes (MK ≤ -24.5). Instead, the KLF is seen to evolve rapidly at intermediate magnitudes, with the number density of galaxies at MK ≃-23 dropping by a factor of ≃5 over the redshift interval 0.25 ≤ z ≤ 3.75. Motivated by this, we explore a simple description of the evolving KLF based on a double Schechter function with fixed faint-end slopes (α1 = -0.5, α2 = -1.5) and a shared characteristic magnitude (MK^{star }). According to this parametrization, the normalization of the component which dominates the faint end of the KLF remains approximately constant, with φ ^{star }2 decreasing by only a factor of ≃2 between z ≃0 and 3.25. In contrast, the component which dominates the bright end of the KLF at low redshifts evolves dramatically, becoming essentially negligible by z ≃3. Finally, we note that within this parametrization, the observed evolution of MK^{star } between z ≃0 and 3.25 is entirely consistent with MK^{star } corresponding to a constant stellar mass of M⋆ ≃5 × 1010 M⊙ at all redshifts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)672-687
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Oct 2016


  • galaxies: evolution
  • galaxies: formation
  • galaxies: general
  • galaxies: luminosity function
  • mass function


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