Approximate Bayesian Computation for astronomical model analysis: a case study in galaxy demographics and morphological transformation at high redshift

Authors

  • E. Cameron,

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    • School of Mathematical Sciences (Statistical Science), Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Brisbane 4001, QLD, Australia
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  • A. N. Pettitt

    1. School of Mathematical Sciences (Statistical Science), Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Brisbane 4001, QLD, Australia
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E-mail: dr.ewan.cameron@gmail.com

ABSTRACT

‘Approximate Bayesian Computation’ (ABC) represents a powerful methodology for the analysis of complex stochastic systems for which the likelihood of the observed data under an arbitrary set of input parameters may be entirely intractable – the latter condition rendering useless the standard machinery of tractable likelihood-based, Bayesian statistical inference [e.g. conventional Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) simulation]. In this paper, we demonstrate the potential of ABC for astronomical model analysis by application to a case study in the morphological transformation of high-redshift galaxies. To this end, we develop, first, a stochastic model for the competing processes of merging and secular evolution in the early Universe, and secondly, through an ABC-based comparison against the observed demographics of massive (Mgal > 1011 M) galaxies (at 1.5 < z < 3) in the Cosmic Assembly Near-IR Deep Extragalatic Legacy Survey (CANDELS)/Extended Groth Strip (EGS) data set we derive posterior probability densities for the key parameters of this model. The ‘Sequential Monte Carlo’ implementation of ABC exhibited herein, featuring both a self-generating target sequence and self-refining MCMC kernel, is amongst the most efficient of contemporary approaches to this important statistical algorithm. We highlight as well through our chosen case study the value of careful summary statistic selection, and demonstrate two modern strategies for assessment and optimization in this regard. Ultimately, our ABC analysis of the high-redshift morphological mix returns tight constraints on the evolving merger rate in the early Universe and favours major merging (with disc survival or rapid reformation) over secular evolution as the mechanism most responsible for building up the first generation of bulges in early-type discs.

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