Interpreting the observed UV continuum slopes of high-redshift galaxies
The observed UV continuum slope of star forming galaxies is strongly affected by the presence of dust. Its observation is then a potentially valuable diagnostic of dust attenuation, particularly at high-redshift where other diagnostics are currently inaccesible. Interpreting the observed UV continuum slope in the context of dust attenuation is often achieved assuming the empirically calibrated Meurer et al. (1999) relation. Implicit in this relation is the assumption of an intrinsic UV continuum slope ($β=-2.23$). However, results from numerical simulations suggest that the intrinsic UV continuum slopes of high-redshift star forming galaxies are bluer than this, and moreover vary with redshift. Using values of the intrinsic slope predicted by numerical models of galaxy formation combined with a Calzetti et al. (2000) reddening law we infer UV attenuations ($A_1500$) $0.35-0.5\, mag$ ($A_V$: $0.14-0.2\, mag$ assuming Calzetti et al. 2000) greater than simply assuming the Meurer relation. This has significant implications for the inferred amount of dust attenuation at very-high ($z≈ 7$) redshift given current observational constraints on $β$, combined with the Meurer relation, suggest dust attenuation to be virtually zero in all but the most luminous systems.