THE Origin of the 4.5 μM Excess From Dwarf Galaxies

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Dwarf galaxies tend to have redder [3.6 μm] - [4.5 μm] Spitzer broadband colors than spirals. To investigate this effect, for a large sample of dwarf galaxies we combine Spitzer fluxes with data at other wavelengths and compare to population synthesis models. Lower metallicity systems are found to have redder [3.6] - [4.5] colors on average, but with considerable scatter. The observed range in [3.6] - [4.5] color is too large to be accounted for solely by variations in stellar colors due to age or metallicity differences; interstellar effects must contribute as well. For the reddest systems, the 4.5 μm luminosity may not be a good tracer of stellar mass. We identify three factors that redden this color in dwarfs. First, in some systems, strong Brα emission contributes significantly to the 4.5 μm emission. Second, in some cases high optical depths lead to strong reddening of the starlight in the Spitzer bands. Third, in some galaxies, the nebular continuum dominates the 4.5 μm flux, and in extreme cases, the 3.6 μm flux as well. The harder UV radiation fields in lower metallicity systems produce both more gaseous continuum in the infrared and more Brα per star formation rate. The combination of these three factors can account for the 4.5 μm excess in our sample galaxies, thus it is not necessary to invoke a major contribution from hot dust to the 4.5 μm band. However, given the uncertainties, we are not able to completely rule out hot dust emission at 4.5 μm. More spectroscopic observations in the 3-5 μm range are needed to disentangle these effects.