New Image Statistics for Detecting Disturbed Galaxy Morphologies at High Redshift


Testing theories of hierarchical structure formation requires estimating the distribution of galaxy morphologies and its change with redshift. One aspect of this investigation involves identifying galaxies with disturbed morphologies (e.g. merging galaxies). This is often done by summarizing galaxy images using, e.g. the concentration, asymmetry and clumpiness and Gini-M20 statistics of Conselice and Lotz et al., respectively, and associating particular statistic values with disturbance. We introduce three statistics that enhance detection of disturbed morphologies at high redshift (z ∼ 2): the multimode (M), intensity (I) and deviation (D) statistics. We show their effectiveness by training a machine-learning classifier, random forest, using 1639 galaxies observed in the H band by the Hubble Space Telescope WFC3, galaxies that had been previously classified by eye by the Cosmic Assembly Near-IR Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey collaboration. We find that the MID statistics (and the A statistic of Conselice) are the most useful for identifying disturbed morphologies. We also explore whether human annotators are useful for identifying disturbed morphologies. We demonstrate that they show limited ability to detect disturbance at high redshift, and that increasing their number beyond ≈10 does not provably yield better classification performance. We propose a simulation-based model-fitting algorithm that mitigates these issues by bypassing annotation.

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 434(1): 282–-295, 2013