Identification of Low Surface Brightness Tidal Features in Galaxies Using Convolutional Neural Networks

Mike Walmsley, Annette M. N. Ferguson, Robert G. Mann, Chris J. Lintott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Faint tidal features around galaxies record their merger and interaction histories over cosmic time. Due to their low surface brightnesses and complex morphologies, existing automated methods struggle to detect such features and most work to date has heavily relied on visual inspection. This presents a major obstacle to quantitative study of tidal debris features in large statistical samples, and hence the ability to be able to use these features to advance understanding of the galaxy population as a whole. This paper uses convolutional neural networks (CNNs) with dropout and augmentation to identify galaxies in the CFHTLS-Wide Survey that have faint tidal features. Evaluating the performance of the CNNs against previously-published expert visual classifications, we find that our method achieves high (76%) completeness and low (20%) contamination, and also performs considerably better than other automated methods recently applied in the literature. We argue that CNNs offer a promising approach to effective automatic identification of low surface brightness tidal debris features in and around galaxies. When applied to forthcoming deep wide-field imaging surveys (e.g. LSST, Euclid), CNNs have the potential to provide a several order-of-magnitude increase in the sample size of morphologically-perturbed galaxies and thereby facilitate a much-anticipated revolution in terms of quantitative low surface brightness science.


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  • astro-ph.IM


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