Extremely Red Galaxies at z = 5-9 with MIRI and NIRSpec: Dusty Galaxies or Obscured Active Galactic Nuclei?

Guillermo Barro, Pablo G. Pérez-González, Dale D. Kocevski, Elizabeth J. McGrath, Jonathan R. Trump, Raymond C. Simons, Rachel S. Somerville, L. Y.Aaron Yung, Pablo Arrabal Haro, Hollis B. Akins, Michaela B. Bagley, Nikko J. Cleri, Luca Costantin, Kelcey Davis, Mark Dickinson, Steve L. Finkelstein, Mauro Giavalisco, Carlos Gómez-Guijarro, Nimish P. Hathi, Michaela HirschmannBenne W. Holwerda, Marc Huertas-Company, Jeyhan S. Kartaltepe, Anton M. Koekemoer, Ray A. Lucas, Casey Papovich, Nor Pirzkal, Lise Marie Seillé, Sandro Tacchella, Stijn Wuyts, Stephen M. Wilkins, Alexander de la Vega, Guang Yang, Jorge A. Zavala

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We study a new population of extremely red objects (EROs) recently discovered by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) based on their NIRCam colors F277W − F444W > 1.5 mag. We find 37 EROs in the Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey (CEERS) field with F444W < 28 mag and photometric redshifts between 5 < z < 7, with median z = 6.9 − 1.6 + 1.0 . Surprisingly, despite their red long-wavelength colors, these EROs have blue short-wavelength colors (F150W − F200W ∼ 0 mag) indicative of bimodal spectral energy distributions (SEDs) with a red, steep slope in the rest-frame optical, and a blue, flat slope in the rest-frame UV. Moreover, all these EROs are unresolved, point-like sources in all NIRCam bands. We analyze the SEDs of eight of them with MIRI and NIRSpec observations using stellar population models and active galactic nucleus (AGN) templates. We find that dusty galaxies or obscured AGNs provide similarly good SED fits but different stellar properties: massive and dusty, log M ⋆ / M ⊙ ∼ 10 and A V ≳ 3 mag, or low mass and obscured, log M ⋆ / M ⊙ ∼ 7.5 and A V ∼ 0 mag, hosting an obscured quasi-stellar object (QSO). SED modeling does not favor either scenario, but their unresolved sizes are more suggestive of AGNs. If any EROs are confirmed to have log M ⋆ / M ⊙ ≳ 10.5, it would increase the pre-JWST number density at z > 7 by up to a factor ∼60. Similarly, if they are QSOs with luminosities in the L bol > 1045-46 erg s−1 range, their number would exceed that of bright blue QSOs by more than three orders of magnitude. Additional photometry at mid-infrared wavelengths will reveal the true nature of the red continuum emission in these EROs and will place this puzzling population in the right context of galaxy evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Article number128
Number of pages23
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
Early online date6 Mar 2024
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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