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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Fluctuations in Radiation Backgrounds at High Redshift and the First Stars

  • Author(s): Holzbauer, Lauren Nicole
  • Advisor(s): Furlanetto, Steven R
  • et al.

The first stars to light up our universe are as yet unseen, but there have been many attempts to elucidate their properties. The characteristics of these stars (`Population/Pop III' stars) that we do know lie mostly within theory; they formed out of metal-free hydrogen and helium gas contained in dark matter minihalos at redshifts z ~ 20-30. The extent to which Pop III star formation reached into later times is unknown. Current and near future instruments are incapable of resolving individual Pop III stars. Consequently, astronomers must devise creative means with which to indirectly predict and measure and their properties. In this thesis, we will investigate a few of those means.

We use a new method to model fluctuations of the Lyman-Werner (LW) and Lyman-α radiation backgrounds at high redshift. At these early epochs the backgrounds are symptoms of a universe newly lit with its first stars. LW photons (11.5-13.6 eV) are of particular interest because they dissociate molecular hydrogen, the primary coolant in the first minihalos that is necessary for star formation. By using a variation of the `halo model', which describes the spatial distribution and clustering of halos, we can efficiently generate power spectra for these backgrounds. Spatial fluctuations in the LW and (indirectly) the Lyman-α BG can tell us about the transition from primordial star formation to a more metal-enriched mode that marks the beginning of the second generation of stars in our Universe.

The Near Infrared Background (NIRB) has for some time been considered a potential tool with which to indirectly observe the first stars. Ultraviolet (UV) emission from these stars is redshifted into the NIR band, making the NIRB amenable for hunting Pop III stellar signatures. There have been several measurements of the NIRB and subsequent theoretical studies attempting to explain them in recent years. Though controversial, residual levels of the mean NIRB intensity and anisotropies have been detected after subtracting all known foreground stars and galaxies. Pop III stars have been the leading candidates thought responsible for this observed NIRB excess. We model the Pop III stellar contribution to the NIRB mean intensity and fluctuations and generate observationally motivated values of the star formation (SF) efficiency using high redshift measurements of the UV luminosity density with UDF09, UDF12, and WMAP-9 data. This allows us to characterize the properties of a Pop III stellar population that are required to produce the measured excess.

Finally, we propose a new method for detecting primordial metal-free and very metal-poor stellar populations by cross-correlating fluctuations in the intensity of Lyman-α and He II &\lambda;1640Å emission sourced from high redshifts. Pop III stars are expected to be more massive and more compact than later generations of stars. This results in a much harder ionizing spectrum. A large portion of the ionizing photons have energies with hν > 54.4 eV that carve out substantial patches of doubly ionized helium, He III. These photoionized regions then begin to shine brightly in He II recombination emission. Due to the lack of heavy elements in these regions, Pop III stars must rely on hydrogen and helium for cooling, enhancing both the Lyman-α and He II emission lines. In this regard, Pop III stars can be characterized as `dual emitters,' i.e. producers of both Lyman-α and He II emission signatures. Though Lyman-α emission is characteristic of both metal-free and metal-enriched stars, He II emission appears to be unique to extremely metal poor stars and metal-free stars, making it a very strong signature of the first stars. Detecting Lyman-α + He II dual emission in individual galaxies at high redshift is difficult and so far rare. The astrophysical engines powering the few Lyman-α + He II dual emitters that have been discovered have still not been clearly identified. Alternatively, we may be able to map fluctuations in the total intensity of the Lyman-α and He II λ1640 lines, which will allow us to indirectly assess sources that are below typical luminosity thresholds of deep surveys. Cross-correlating these lines can provide us with a useful new tool for inferring properties of the first stars, since the two lines together allow us to better isolate the redshift of source emission and the presence of He II λ1640 emission is extremely sensitive to stellar metallicity.

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