Reconstruction of Galaxy Star Formation Histories through SED Fitting:The Dense Basis Approach

Kartheik Iyer, Eric Gawiser

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31 Scopus citations


We introduce the dense basis method for Spectral Energy Distribution (SED) fitting. It accurately recovers traditional SED parameters, including M , SFR, and dust attenuation, and reveals previously inaccessible information about the number and duration of star formation episodes and the timing of stellar mass assembly, as well as uncertainties in these quantities. This is done using basis star formation histories (SFHs) chosen by comparing the goodness-of-fit of mock galaxy SEDs to the goodness-of-reconstruction of their SFHs. We train and validate the method using a sample of realistic SFHs at z = 1 drawn from stochastic realizations, semi-analytic models, and a cosmological hydrodynamical galaxy formation simulation. The method is then applied to a sample of 1100 CANDELS GOODS-S galaxies at to illustrate its capabilities at moderate S/N with 15 photometric bands. Of the six parametrizations of SFHs considered, we adopt linear-exponential, bessel-exponential, log-normal, and Gaussian SFHs, and reject the traditional parametrizations of constant (Top-Hat) and exponential SFHs. We quantify the bias and scatter of each parametrization. 15% of galaxies in our CANDELS sample exhibit multiple episodes of star formation, with this fraction decreasing above . About 40% of the CANDELS galaxies have SFHs whose maximum occurs at or near the epoch of observation. The dense basis method is scalable and offers a general approach to a broad class of data-science problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number127
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • galaxies: evolution
  • galaxies: star formation
  • techniques: photometric


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