Dust extinction is the most robust tracer of the gas distribution in the interstellar medium, but measuring extinction is limited by the systematic uncertainties involved in estimating the intrinsic colors to background stars. In this paper we present a new technique, PNICER, that estimates intrinsic colors and extinction for individual stars using unsupervised machine learning algorithms. This new method aims to be free from any priors with respect to the column density and intrinsic color distribution. It is applicable to any combination of parameters and works in arbitrary numbers of dimensions. Furthermore, it is not restricted to color space. Extinction towards single sources is determined by fitting Gaussian Mixture Models along the extinction vector to (extinction-free) control field observations. In this way it becomes possible to describe the extinction for observed sources with probability densities. PNICER effectively eliminates known biases found in similar methods and outperforms them in cases of deep observational data where the number of background galaxies is significant, or when a large number of parameters is used to break degeneracies in the intrinsic color distributions. This new method remains computationally competitive, making it possible to correctly de-redden millions of sources within a matter of seconds. With the ever-increasing number of large-scale high-sensitivity imaging surveys, PNICER offers a fast and reliable way to efficiently calculate extinction for arbitrary parameter combinations without prior information on source characteristics. PNICER also offers access to the well-established NICER technique in a simple unified interface and is capable of building extinction maps including the NICEST correction for cloud substructure. PNICER is offered to the community as an open-source software solution and is entirely written in Python.
S. Meingast, M. Lombardi and J. Alves
Wed, 1 Mar 17
Comments: Accepted for publication in A&A, source code available at this http URL