The Galaxies Missed by Hubble and ALMA: The Contribution of Extremely Red Galaxies to the Cosmic Census at 3 < z < 8

Christina C. Williams, Stacey Alberts, Zhiyuan Ji, Kevin N. Hainline, Jianwei Lyu, George Rieke, Ryan Endsley, Katherine A. Suess, Fengwu Sun, Benjamin D. Johnson, Michael Florian, Irene Shivaei, Wiphu Rujopakarn, William M. Baker, Rachana Bhatawdekar, Kristan Boyett, Andrew J. Bunker, Alex J. Cameron, Stefano Carniani, Stephane CharlotEmma Curtis-Lake, Christa DeCoursey, Anna de Graaff, Eiichi Egami, Daniel J. Eisenstein, Justus L. Gibson, Ryan Hausen, Jakob M. Helton, Roberto Maiolino, Michael V. Maseda, Erica J. Nelson, Pablo G. Pérez-González, Marcia J. Rieke, Brant E. Robertson, Aayush Saxena, Sandro Tacchella, Christopher N. A. Willmer, Chris J. Willott

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Using deep JWST imaging from JADES, JEMS, and SMILES, we characterize optically faint and extremely red galaxies at z > 3 that were previously missing from galaxy census estimates. The data indicate the existence of abundant, dusty, and poststarburst-like galaxies down to 108 M ⊙, below the sensitivity limit of Spitzer and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). Modeling the NIRCam and Hubble Space Telescope (HST) photometry of these red sources can result in extremely high values for both stellar mass and star formation rate (SFR); however, including seven MIRI filters out to 21 μm results in decreased masses (median 0.6 dex for log10(M∗/M⊙) > 10) and SFRs (median 10× for SFR > 100 M ⊙ yr−1). At z > 6, our sample includes a high fraction of “little red dots” (LRDs; NIRCam-selected dust-reddened active galactic nucleus (AGN) candidates). We significantly measure older stellar populations in the LRDs out to rest-frame 3 μm (the stellar bump) and rule out a dominant contribution from hot dust emission, a signature of AGN contamination to stellar population measurements. This allows us to measure their contribution to the cosmic census at z > 3, below the typical detection limits of ALMA (L IR < 1012 L ⊙). We find that these sources, which are overwhelmingly missed by HST and ALMA, could effectively double the obscured fraction of the star formation rate density at 4 < z < 6 compared to some estimates, showing that prior to JWST, the obscured contribution from fainter sources could be underestimated. Finally, we identify five sources with evidence for Balmer breaks and high stellar masses at 5.5 < z < 7.7. While spectroscopy is required to determine their nature, we discuss possible measurement systematics to explore with future data.
Original languageEnglish
Article number34
Pages (from-to)1-40
Number of pages40
JournalThe Astrophysical Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2024


  • AGN host galaxies
  • Active galaxies
  • High-redshift galaxies


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