Andrew Schechtman-Rook, University of Wisconsin
Measuring the vertical distribution of starlight in spiral galaxies can give valuable insights on both the formation and growth of these complex systems. Unfortunately the study of such structure outside of our Milky Way is significantly hampered by the presence of interstellar dust, which acts to attenuate light in a highly complex manner. The dust is preferentially distributed near the midplane, which makes studying that region extremely difficult. Using a combination of sub-arcsecond resolution near-infrared imaging and advanced radiative transfer modeling we have probed the stellar disk structure of several nearby edge-on spiral galaxies on vertical scales of less than 100 pc. For NGC 891, one of the most well-studied galaxies in the local universe, we find a light distribution very similar to the Milky Way, including the presence of a super-thin (scale-height ~ 100 pc) disk analogous to the Milky Way’s young, star-forming disk. Our full sample paints a surprisingly varied picture of spiral disk structure, indicating that there is still much to learn about how these galaxies evolve.