The MOSDEF Survey: The First Direct Measurements of the Nebular Dust Attenuation Curve at High Redshift

Naveen A. Reddy, Alice E. Shapley, Mariska Kriek, Charles C. Steidel, Irene Shivaei, Ryan L. Sanders, Bahram Mobasher, Alison L. Coil, Brian Siana, William R. Freeman, Mojegan Azadi, Tara Fetherolf, Gene Leung, Sedona H. Price, Tom Zick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


We use a sample of 532 star-forming galaxies at redshifts z ≃ 1.4-2.6 with deep rest-frame optical spectra from the MOSFIRE Deep Evolution Field (MOSDEF) survey to place the first constraints on the nebular attenuation curve at high redshift. Based on the first five low-order Balmer emission lines detected in the composite spectra of these galaxies (Hα through Hϵ), we derive a nebular attenuation curve that is similar in shape to that of the Galactic extinction curve, suggesting that the dust covering fraction and absorption/scattering properties along the lines of sight to massive stars at high redshift are similar to those of the average Milky Way sight line. The curve derived here implies nebular reddening values that are, on average, systematically larger than those derived for the stellar continuum. In the context of stellar population synthesis models that include the effects of stellar multiplicity, the difference in reddening of the nebular lines and stellar continuum may imply molecular cloud crossing timescales that are a factor of ≥ 3× longer than those inferred for local molecular clouds, star formation rates that are constant or increasing with time such that newly formed and dustier OB associations always dominate the ionizing flux, and/or that the dust responsible for reddening the nebular emission may be associated with nonmolecular (i.e., ionized and neutral) phases of the interstellar medium. Our analysis points to a variety of investigations of the nebular attenuation curve that will be enabled with the next generation of ground- and space-based facilities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number123
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 20 2020

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© 2020. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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