Measuring Infrared Surface Brightness Fluctuation Distances with HST WFC3: Calibration and Advice

Joseph B. Jensen

© 2015. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.

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We present new calibrations of the near-infrared surface brightness fluctuation (SBF) distance method for the F110W (J) and F160W (H) bandpasses of the Wide Field Camera 3 Infrared Channel (WFC3/IR) on the Hubble Space Telescope. The calibrations are based on data for 16 early-type galaxies in the Virgo and Fornax clusters observed with WFC3/IR and are provided as functions of both the optical (g-z) and near-infrared (J-H) colors. The scatter about the linear calibration relations for the luminous red galaxies in the sample is approximately 0.10 mag, corresponding to a statistical error of 5% in distance. Our results imply that the distance to any suitably bright elliptical galaxy can be measured with this precision out to about 80 Mpc in a single-orbit observation with WFC3/IR, making this a remarkably powerful instrument for extragalactic distances. The calibration sample also includes much bluer and lower-luminosity galaxies than previously used for IR SBF studies, revealing interesting population differences that cause the calibration scatter to increase for dwarf galaxies.