The spitzer survey of the small magellanic cloud (S3MC): Insights into the life cycle of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Karin M. Sandstrom, Alberto D. Bolatto, B. T. Draine, Caroline Bot, Snežana Stanimirović

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


We present the results of modeling dust spectral energy distributions (SEDs) across the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) with the aim of mapping the distribution of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in a low-metallicity environment. Using Spitzer Survey of the SMC photometry from 3.6 to 160 μm over the main star-forming regions of the Wing and Bar of the SMC along with spectral mapping observations from 5 to 38 μm from the Spitzer Spectroscopic Survey of the SMC in selected regions, we model the dust SED and emission spectrum to determine the fraction of dust in PAHs across the SMC. We use the regions of overlapping photometry and spectroscopy to test the reliability of the PAH fraction as determined from SED fits alone. The PAH fraction in the SMC is low compared to the Milky Way and variable - with relatively high fractions (q PAH ∼ 1%-2%) in molecular clouds and low fractions in the diffuse interstellar medium (ISM; average 〈q PAH〉 = 0.6%). We use the map of PAH fraction across the SMC to test a number of ideas regarding the production, destruction, and processing of PAHs in the ISM. We find weak or no correlation between the PAH fraction and the distribution of carbon asymptotic giant branch stars, the location of supergiant H I shells and young supernova remnants, and the turbulent Mach number. We find that the PAH fraction is correlated with CO intensity, peaks in the dust surface density and the molecular gas surface density as determined from 160 μm emission. The PAH fraction is high in regions of active star formation, as predicted by its correlation with molecular gas, but is suppressed in H II regions. Because the PAH fraction in the diffuse ISM is generally very low - in accordance with previous work on modeling the integrated SED of the SMC - and the PAH fraction is relatively high in molecular regions, we suggest that PAHs are destroyed in the diffuse ISM of the SMC and/or PAHs are forming in molecular clouds. We discuss the implications of these observations for our understanding of the PAH life cycle, particularly in low-metallicity and/or primordial galaxies.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)701-723
Number of pages23
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Dust, extinction
  • Infrared: ISM
  • Magellanic Clouds


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