Discovery of a Dark, Massive, ALMA-only Galaxy at z ~ 5–6 in a Tiny 3 mm Survey

Christina C. Williams, Ivo Labbe, Justin Spilker, Mauro Stefanon, Joel Leja, Katherine Whitaker, Rachel Bezanson, Desika Narayanan, Pascal Oesch, Benjamin Weiner

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We report the serendipitous detection of two 3 mm continuum sources found in deep ALMA Band 3 observations to study intermediate-redshift galaxies in the COSMOS field. One is near a foreground galaxy at 13, but is a previously unknown dust-obscured star-forming galaxy (DSFG) at probable z CO = 3.329, illustrating the risk of misidentifying shorter wavelength counterparts. The optical-to-millimeter spectral energy distribution (SED) favors a gray λ −0.4 attenuation curve and results in significantly larger stellar mass and SFR compared to a Calzetti starburst law, suggesting caution when relating progenitors and descendants based on these quantities. The other source is missing from all previous optical/near-infrared/submillimeter/radio catalogs ("ALMA-only"), and remains undetected even in stacked ultradeep optical (>29.6 AB) and near-infrared (>27.9 AB) images. Using the ALMA position as a prior reveals faint signal-to-noise ratio ~ 3 measurements in stacked IRAC 3.6+4.5, ultradeep SCUBA2 850 μm, and VLA 3 GHz, indicating the source is real. The SED is robustly reproduced by a massive M* = 1010.8 M and M gas = 1011 M , highly obscured A V  ~ 4, star-forming SFR ~ 300 M yr−1 galaxy at redshift z = 5.5 ± 1.1. The ultrasmall 8 arcmin2 survey area implies a large yet uncertain contribution to the cosmic star formation rate density CSFRD(z = 5) ~ 0.9 × 10−2 M yr−1 Mpc−3, comparable to all ultraviolet-selected galaxies combined. These results indicate the existence of a prominent population of DSFGs at z > 4, below the typical detection limit of bright galaxies found in single-dish submillimeter surveys, but with larger space densities ~3 × 10−5 Mpc−3, higher duty cycles of 50%–100%, contributing more to the CSFRD, and potentially dominating the high-mass galaxy stellar mass function.
Original languageEnglish
Article number154
JournalThe Astrophysical Journal
Issue number2
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: high-redshift
  • Galaxies: starburst

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