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Stellar Populations, Outflows, and Morphologies of High-Redshift Galaxies

  • Author(s): Kornei, Katherine Anne
  • Advisor(s): Shapley, Alice E
  • et al.

Understanding the regulation and environment of star formation across cosmic time is critical to tracing the build-up of mass in the Universe and the interplay between the stars and gas that are the constituents of galaxies. Three studies are presented in this thesis, each examining a different aspect of star formation at a specific epoch. The first study presents the results of a photometric and spectroscopic survey of 321 Lyman break galaxies (LBGs) at z = 3 to investigate systematically the relationship between Lyα emission and stellar populations. Lyα equivalent widths were calculated from rest-frame UV spectroscopy and optical/near-infrared/Spitzer photometry was used in population synthesis modeling to derive the key properties of age, dust extinction, star formation rate (SFR), and stellar mass. We directly compare the stellar populations of LBGs with and without strong Lyα emission, where we designate the former group (Lyα equivalent widths greater than 20 Å) as Lyα-emitters (LAEs) and the latter group (Lyα equivalent widths fewer than 20 Å) as non-LAEs. This controlled method of comparing objects from the same UV luminosity distribution represents an improvement over previous studies in which the stellar populations of LBGs and narrowband-selected LAEs were contrasted, where the latter were often intrinsically fainter in broadband filters by an order of magnitude simply due to different selection criteria. Using a variety of statistical tests, we find that Lyα equivalent width and age, SFR, and dust extinction, respectively, are significantly correlated in the sense that objects with strong Lyα emission also tend to be older, lower in star formation rate, and less dusty than objects with weak Lyα emission, or the line in absorption. We accordingly conclude that, within the LBG sample, objects with strong Lyα emission represent a later stage of galaxy evolution in which supernovae-induced outflows have reduced the dust covering fraction. We also examined the hypothesis that the attenuation of Lyα photons is lower than that of the continuum, as proposed by some, but found no evidence to support this picture.

The second study focuses specifically on galactic-scale outflowing winds in 72 star-forming galaxies at z = 1 in the Extended Groth Strip. Galaxies were selected from the DEEP2 survey and follow-up LRIS spectroscopy was obtained covering SiII, CIV, FeII, MgII, and MgI lines in the rest-frame ultraviolet. Using GALEX, HST, and Spitzer imaging available for the Extended Groth Strip, we examine galaxies on a per-object basis in order to better understand both the prevalence of galactic outflows at z = 1 and the star-forming and structural properties of objects experiencing outflows. Gas velocities, measured from the centroids of FeII interstellar absorption lines, are found to span the interval -217, +155 km s-1. We find that approximately 40% (10%) of the sample exhibits blueshifted FeII lines at the 1σ (3σ) level. We also measure maximal outflow velocities using the profiles of the FeII and MgII lines; we find that MgII frequently traces higher velocity gas than FeII. Using quantitative morphological parameters derived from the HST imaging, we find that mergers are not a prerequisite for driving outflows. More face-on galaxies also show stronger winds than highly inclined systems, consistent with the canonical picture of winds emanating perpendicular to galactic disks. In light of clumpy galaxy morphologies, we develop a new physically-motivated technique for estimating areas corresponding to star formation. We use these area measurements in tandem with GALEX-derived star-formation rates to calculate star-formation rate surface densities. At least 70% of the sample exceeds a star-formation rate surface density of 0.1 solar masses yr-1 kpc-2, the threshold necessary for driving an outflow in local starbursts. At the same time, the outflow detection fraction of only 40% in FeII absorption provides further evidence for an outflow geometry that is not spherically symmetric. We see a 3σ trend between outflow velocity and star-formation rate surface density, but no significant trend between outflow velocity and star-formation rate. Higher resolution data are needed in order to test the scaling relations between outflow velocity and both star-formation rate and star-formation rate surface density predicted by theory.

Galactic winds are further explored in the third study of this thesis, where we present a study at z = 1 of the prevalence and kinematics of ultraviolet emission lines from fine-structure FeII* transitions and resonance MgII transitions. Utilizing a multiwavelength dataset of 212 star-forming galaxies, we investigate how the strength and kinematics of FeII* and MgII emission lines vary as a function of galaxy properties. We find that FeII* emission is prevalent in the sample; composite spectra assembled on the basis of a variety of galaxy properties all show FeII* emission, particularly in the stronger 2396 and 2626 Å lines. This prevalence of emission is in contrast to observations of local galaxies; the lack of FeII* emission in the small star-forming regions targeted by spectroscopic observations at z = 0 may imply that FeII* emission arises in more extended galaxy halos. The strength of FeII* emission is most strongly modulated by star-formation rate, dust attenuation, and [OII] equivalent width, such that systems with lower star-formation rates, lower dust levels, and larger [OII] equivalent widths show stronger FeII* emission. MgII emission, while not observed in a spectral stack of all the data in our sample, is seen in 30% of individual objects. We find that objects showing MgII emission have preferentially larger [OII] equivalent widths, bluer U-B colors, and lower stellar masses than the sample as a whole. Active galactic nuclei are not likely responsible for the MgII emission in our sample, since we have excluded active galaxies from our dataset. We also do not observe the NeV emission line at 3425 Å characteristic of active galaxies in our co-added spectra. We find that the kinematics of FeII* emission lines are consistent with the systemic velocity. This result does not necessarily imply that these lines arise from star-forming regions, however, as an optically thin galactic wind could show blueshifted and redshifted FeII* emission lines centered around 0 km s-1. We note that FeII* emission arising from extended gas is consistent with the hypothesis that slit losses are responsible for the lack of FeII* emission in local samples. We propose that dust is primarily responsible for the correlations between FeII* strength and galaxy properties, as objects with lower star-formation rates and larger [OII] equivalent widths also exhibit lower dust attenuations, on average. The strong MgII emission seen in systems with larger [OII] equivalent widths, bluer U-B colors, and lower stellar masses may also be the result of low dust attenuation in these objects. Larger studies composed of high signal-to-noise observations will be critical for testing the hypothesis that dust is the primary modulator of fine-structure and resonance emission.

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