AAS Meeting #194 - Chicago, Illinois, May/June 1999
Session 71. Between the Stars II: The ISM, Galactic and Extragalactic
Display, Wednesday, June 2, 1999, 10:00am-6:30pm, Southwest Exhibit Hall

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[71.10] Measuring Extinction in Local Group Galaxies Using Background Galaxies

T. K. Wyder, P. W. Hodge (Univ. of Washington)

Knowledge of the distribution and quantity of dust in galaxies is important for understanding their structure and evolution. The goal of our research is to measure the total extinction through Local Group galaxies using measured properties of background galaxies. Our method relies on the SExtractor software as an objective and automated method of detecting background galaxies. In an initial test, we have explored two WFPC2 fields in the SMC and two in M31 obtained from the HST archives. The two pointings in the SMC are fields around the open clusters L31 and B83 while the two M31 fields target the globular clusters G1 and G170. Except for the G1 observations of M31, the fields chosen are very crowded (even when observed with HST) and we chose them as a particularly stringent test of the method. We performed several experiments using a series of completeness tests that involved superimposing comparison fields, adjusted to the equivalent exposure time, from the HST Medium-Deep and Groth-Westphal surveys. These tests showed that for crowded fields, such as the two in the core of the SMC and the one in the bulge of M31, this automated method of detecting galaxies can be completely dominated by the effects of crowding. For these fields, only a small fraction of the added galaxies was recovered. However, in the outlying G1 field in M31, almost all of the added galaxies were recovered. The numbers of actual background galaxies in this field are consistent with zero extinction. As a follow-up experiment, we used image processing techniques to suppress stellar objects while enhancing objects with non-stellar, more gradual luminosity profiles. This method yielded significant numbers of background galaxies in even the most crowded fields, which we are now analyzing to determine the total extinction and reddening caused by the foreground galaxy.

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