The true durations of starbursts: Hubble space telescope observations of three nearby dwarf starburst galaxies

Kristen B.W. McQuinn, Evan D. Skillman, John M. Cannon, Julianne J. Dalcanton, Andrew Dolphin, David Stark, Daniel Weisz

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58 Scopus citations


The duration of a starburst is a fundamental parameter affecting the evolution of galaxies yet, to date, observational constraints on the durations of starbursts are not well established. Here we study the recent star formation histories of three nearby dwarf galaxies to rigorously quantify the duration of their starburst events using a uniform and consistent approach. We find that the bursts range from ∼200 to ∼400 Myr in duration resolving the tension between the shorter timescales often derived observationally with the longer timescales derived from dynamical arguments. If these three starbursts are typical of starbursts in dwarf galaxies, then the short timescales (3-10 Myr) associated with starbursts in previous studies are best understood as "flickering" events which are simply small components of the larger starburst. In this sample of three nearby dwarfs, the bursts are not localized events. All three systems show bursting levels of star formation in regions of both high and low stellar density. The enhanced star formation moves around the galaxy during the bursts and covers a large fraction of the area of the galaxy. These massive, long-duration bursts can significantly affect the structure, dynamics, and chemical evolution of the host galaxy and can be the progenitors of "superwinds" that drive much of the recently chemically enriched material from the galaxy into the intergalactic medium.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)561-573
Number of pages13
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 10 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Support for this work was provided by NASA through grants AR-10945 and AR-11281 from the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by Aura, Inc., under NASA contract NAS5-26555. E.D.S. is grateful for partial support from the University of Minnesota. J.J.D. was partially supported as a Wyckoff Fellow. K.B.W.M. gratefully acknowledges Matthew, Cole, and Carling for their support. This research made use of NASA’s Astrophysical Data System and the NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database (NED) which is operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. We would like to thank the anonymous referee for a prompt and very helpful report.


  • Galaxies: dwarf
  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: individual (NGC 4163, NGC 4068, IC 4662)
  • Galaxies: starburst

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