Over half of the far-infrared background light comes from galaxies at z ≥ 1.2


Submillimetre surveys during the past decade have discovered a population of luminous, high-redshift, dusty starburst galaxies1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. In the redshift range 1 ≤ z ≤ 4, these massive submillimetre galaxies go through a phase characterized by optically obscured star formation at rates several hundred times that in the local Universe. Half of the starlight from this highly energetic process is absorbed and thermally re-radiated by clouds of dust at temperatures near 30 K with spectral energy distributions peaking at 100 μm in the rest frame9. At 1 ≤ z ≤ 4, the peak is redshifted to wavelengths between 200 and 500 μm. The cumulative effect of these galaxies is to yield extragalactic optical and far-infrared backgrounds with approximately equal energy densities. Since the initial detection of the far-infrared background (FIRB)10, higher-resolution experiments have sought to decompose this integrated radiation into the contributions from individual galaxies. Here we report the results of an extragalactic survey at 250, 350 and 500 μm. Combining our results at 500 μm with those at 24 μm, we determine that all of the FIRB comes from individual galaxies, with galaxies at z ≥ 1.2 accounting for 70% of it. As expected, at the longest wavelengths the signal is dominated by ultraluminous galaxies at z > 1.

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Figure 1: Map showing the signal-to-noise ratio combination of all three BLAST bands for the entire BLAST GOODS-South observation.
Figure 2: The differential source counts at a variety of submillimetre and far-infrared wavelengths.


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We acknowledge the support of NASA, the US National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs, the Canadian Space Agency, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council. We are grateful to B. Magnelli for help with the FIDEL 24-µm data. This research was enabled by the WestGrid computing resources and the SIMBAD and NASA/IPAC databases. We thank the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, Ken Borek Air Ltd and the mountaineers of McMurdo Station for their work.

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Correspondence to Mark J. Devlin.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Data, Supplementary Tables S1-S4, Supplementary Figures S1-S8 and supplementary References. (PDF 500 kb)

Supplementary Data

This file contains Source list 1- BLASTgoods-s2006-12-21_cat250_2008-11-24_3sig_bid.dat. (TXT 187 kb)

Supplementary Data

This file contains Source List 2 - BLASTgoods-s2006-12-21_cat350_2008-11-24_3sig_bid.dat (TXT 153 kb)

Supplementary Data

This file contains Source List 3 - BLASTgoods-s2006-12-21_cat500_2008-11-24_3sig_bid.dat (TXT 118 kb)

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Devlin, M., Ade, P., Aretxaga, I. et al. Over half of the far-infrared background light comes from galaxies at z ≥ 1.2. Nature 458, 737–739 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature07918

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