Evidence for a major merger origin of high-redshift submillimeter galaxies

Christopher J. Conselice, Scott C. Chapman, Rogier Windhorst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


Submillimeter-detected galaxies located at redshifts z > 1 host a major fraction of the bolometric luminosity at high redshifts due to thermal emission from heated dust grains, yet the nature of these objects remains a mystery. The major problem in understanding their origin is whether the dust-heating mechanism is predominantly caused by star formation or active galactic nuclei and what triggered this activity. We address this issue by examining the structures of 11 submillimeter galaxies imaged with STIS on the Hubble Space Telescope. We argue that ∼61% ± 21% of these submillimeter sources are undergoing an active major merger using the CAS (concentration, asymmetry, dumpiness) quantitative morphological system. We rule out at ∼5 σ confidence that these submillimeter galaxies are normal Hubble types at high redshift. This merger fraction appears to be higher than for Lyman break, galaxies undergoing mergers at similar redshifts. Using reasonable constraints on the stellar masses of Lyman break galaxies and these submillimeter sources, we further argue that at redshifts z ∼ 2-3, systems with high stellar masses are more likely than lower mass galaxies to be involved in major mergers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)L5-L8
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 II
StatePublished - Oct 10 2003


  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: formation
  • Galaxies: high-redshift
  • Galaxies: interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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