The silicate cross section peak near 10 μm produces emission and absorption features in the spectra of dusty galactic nuclei observed with the Spitzer Space Telescope. Especially in ultraluminous infrared galaxies, the observed absorption feature can be extremely deep, as IRAS 08572+3915 illustrates. A foreground screen of obscuration cannot reproduce this observed feature, even at a large optical depth. Instead, the deep absorption requires a nuclear source to be deeply embedded in a smooth distribution of material that is both geometrically and optically thick. In contrast, a clumpy medium can produce only shallow absorption or emission, which are characteristic of optically identified active galactic nuclei. In general, the geometry of the dusty region and the total optical depth, rather than the grain composition or heating spectrum, determine the silicate feature's observable properties. The apparent optical depth calculated from the ratio of line to continuum emission generally fails to accurately measure the true optical depth. The obscuring geometry, not the nature of the embedded source, also determines the far-IR spectral shape.

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Published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, v. 654, no. 1, p. L45-L48.

© 2007. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.

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