We present models of deeply buried ultraluminous infrared galaxy (ULIRG) spectral energy distributions (SEDs) and use them to construct a three-dimensional diagram for diagnosing the nature of observed ULIRGs. Our goal is to construct a suite of SEDs for a very simple model ULIRG structure, and to explore how well this simple model can (by itself) explain the full range of observed ULIRG properties. We use our diagnostic to analyze archival Spitzer Space Telescope Infrared Spectrograph data of ULIRGs and find that: (1) in general, our model does provide a comprehensive explanation of the distribution of mid-IR ULIRG properties; (2) > 75% (in some cases 100%) of the bolometric luminosities of the most deeply buried ULIRGs must be powered by a dust-enshrouded active galactic nucleus; (3) an unobscured "keyhole" view through ≲ 10% of the obscuring medium surrounding a deeply buried ULIRG is sufficient to make it appear nearly unobscured in the mid-IR; (4) the observed absence of deeply buried ULIRGs with large polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) equivalent widths is naturally explained by our models, showing that deep absorption features are "filled-in" by small quantities of foreground unobscured PAH emission (e.g., from the host galaxy disk) at the level of ~1% the bolometric nuclear luminosity. The modeling and analysis we present will also serve as a powerful tool for interpreting the high angular resolution spectra of high-redshift sources to be obtained with the James Webb Space Telescope.

Document Type


Publication Date


Notes/Citation Information

Published in The Astrophysical Journal, v. 858, no. 1, 59, p. 1-20.

© 2018. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.

The copyright holder has granted the permission for posting the article here.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Funding Information

Support for this work was provided by NASA through Contract Number 1257184 issued by JPL/Caltech. M.E. acknowledges NASA support through grants NNX11AD76G and NNX15AC83G. This research has made use of the NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database (NED) which is operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. T.D.-S. acknowledges support from ALMA-CONICYT project 31130005 and FONDECYT regular project 1151239.

Related Content