We present rest-frame mid-infrared spectroscopy of a sample of 13 submillimeter galaxies, obtained using the Infrared Spectrograph (IRS) on board the Spitzer Space Telescope, The sample includes exclusively bright objects from blank fields and cluster lens-assisted surveys that have accurate interferometric positions. We find that the majority of spectra are well fitted by a starburst template or by the superposition of PAH emission features and a weak mid-infrared continuum, the latter a tracer of active galactic nuclei (AGNs; including Compton-thick ones). We obtain mid-infrared spectroscopic redshifts for all nine sources detected with IRS. For three of them the redshifts were previously unknown. The median value of the redshift distribution is z ∼ 2.8 if we assume that the four IRS nondetections are at high redshift. The median for the IRS detections alone is z ∼ 2.7. Placing the IRS nondetections at similar redshift would require rest-frame mid-IR obscuration larger than is seen in local ULIRGs. The rest-frame mid-infrared spectra and mid- to far-infrared spectral energy distributions are consistent with those of local ultraluminous infrared galaxies but scaled up further in luminosity. The mid-infrared spectra support the scenario that submillimeter galaxies are sites of extreme star formation, rather than X-ray-obscured AGNs, and represent a critical phase in the formation of massive galaxies.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science
- Galaxies: active
- Galaxies: distances and redshifts
- Galaxies: starburst
- Infrared: galaxies