The nuclear polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon emission of merger system NGC 1614: rings within rings




It is important to understand the interplay between nuclear star formation and nuclear activity when studying the evolution of gas-rich galaxy mergers. We present here new spatially resolved L-band integral field unit observations of the inner kpc of the luminous infrared galaxy NGC 1614. A broad ring of 3.3-μm polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) emission is found at a distance of approximately 200 pc from the core. This ring overlaps with a previously established star-forming ring detected with Paα and radio continuum observations, but peaks outside it, especially if determined using the PAH equivalent width. Using the characteristics of the PAH emission and the ionized gas emission, we argue that NGC 1614 features an outward propagating ring of star formation, where the equivalent width of the PAH emission localizes the regions where the current star formation is just expanding into the molecular gas outward of the nucleus. The core itself shows a highly luminous, slightly resolved (at ∼80 pc) L-band continuum source. We find no evidence of active galactic nucleus (AGN) activity and rule out the presence of an obscured AGN using L-band diagnostics. Furthermore, we detect the likely companion galaxy from archival Hubble Space Telescope/Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) imaging. The star formation and dynamical characteristics of the system are consistent with a relatively major merger just after its second passage. An outstanding question is how a gas-rich advanced merger such as this one, with strong luminous infrared galaxies level nuclear starburst and major-merger-like tidal features, has not yet developed an active nucleus.