EDP Sciences
Free access
Volume 444, Number 1, December II 2005
Page(s) 319 - 325
Section Instruments, observational techniques, and data processing
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:20053229

A&A 444, 319-325 (2005)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20053229

Research Note

The opacity of spiral galaxy disks

VII. The accuracy of galaxy counts as an extinction probe
B. W. Holwerda1, 2, R. A. Gonzalez3, Ronald J. Allen2 and P. C. van der Kruit1

1  Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, postbus 800, 9700 AV Groningen, The Netherlands
2  Space Telescope Science Institute, 3700 San Martin Drive, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA
    e-mail: Holwerda@stsci.edu
3  Centro de Radiastronomía y Astrofísica, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 58190 Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico

(Received 12 April 2005 / Accepted 19 July 2005)

The "Synthetic Field Method" (SFM) was introduced by González et al. (1998, ApJ, 506, 152) to calibrate numbers of distant galaxies as a probe of extinction in a foreground spiral disk. González et al. (2003, AJ, 125, 1182) studied the effect of the foreground disk on these numbers using simulations of current and future instruments for fields in the LMC, M 31 and NGC 4536, a galaxy in Virgo. They concluded that: (1) the brighter centers of disks were unsuitable; (2) the granularity of the disk at a fixed surface brightness is the limiting factor in the detection of distant galaxies; and (3) the optimum distance for measurements would be that of the Virgo cluster for the current instruments on board HST. At this distance the foreground disk is smoothed with distance, improving detection of distant background galaxies. Holwerda et al. (2005a, AJ, 129, 1381) automated the SFM and Holwerda et al. (2005b, AJ, 129, 1396) applied it to a large set of WFPC2 fields. In this paper, the quality of the extinction measurement in these fields is compared to their distance, granularity, surface brightness and structure.

The average surface brightness of the of a field is shown to directly influence the accuracy of the SFM. This restricts meaningful measurements to the disks of spiral galaxies. Large structures such as spiral arms have a similar effect. The granularity or small scale structure in a field influences the detection of distant galaxies, limiting the SFM measurements in nearby disks. From the trends in the accuracy and maximum practical field-of-view considerations, the minimum and maximum distance for SFM application, approximately 5 and 35 Mpc respectively. Using the same instrument and detection method, the relations with SFM parameters and field characteristics can be used to forgo the synthetic fields altogether. For the wealth of ACS fields becoming available in the archive, these relations can be used to select those fields based on expected SFM accuracy.

Key words: methods: data analysis -- methods: observational -- methods: statistical -- ISM: dust, extinction -- galaxies: ISM -- galaxies: spiral

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