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Detailed properties of high redshift galaxies


Jones, Tucker A. (2013) Detailed properties of high redshift galaxies. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology.


Galaxies evolve throughout the history of the universe from the first star-forming sources, through gas-rich asymmetric structures with rapid star formation rates, to the massive symmetrical stellar systems observed at the present day. Determining the physical processes which drive galaxy formation and evolution is one of the most important questions in observational astrophysics. This thesis presents four projects aimed at improving our understanding of galaxy evolution from detailed measurements of star forming galaxies at high redshift.

We use resolved spectroscopy of gravitationally lensed z ≃ 2 - 3 star forming galaxies to measure their kinematic and star formation properties. The combination of lensing with adaptive optics yields physical resolution of ≃ 100 pc, sufficient to resolve giant Hii regions. We find that ~ 70 % of galaxies in our sample display ordered rotation with high local velocity dispersion indicating turbulent thick disks. The rotating galaxies are gravitationally unstable and are expected to fragment into giant clumps. The size and dynamical mass of giant Hii regions are in agreement with predictions for such clumps indicating that gravitational instability drives the rapid star formation. The remainder of our sample is comprised of ongoing major mergers. Merging galaxies display similar star formation rate, morphology, and local velocity dispersion as isolated sources, but their velocity fields are more chaotic with no coherent rotation.

We measure resolved metallicity in four lensed galaxies at z = 2.0 − 2.4 from optical emission line diagnostics. Three rotating galaxies display radial gradients with higher metallicity at smaller radii, while the fourth is undergoing a merger and has an inverted gradient with lower metallicity at the center. Strong gradients in the rotating galaxies indicate that they are growing inside-out with star formation fueled by accretion of metal-poor gas at large radii. By comparing measured gradients with an appropriate comparison sample at z = 0, we demonstrate that metallicity gradients in isolated galaxies must flatten at later times. The amount of size growth inferred by the gradients is in rough agreement with direct measurements of massive galaxies. We develop a chemical evolution model to interpret these data and conclude that metallicity gradients are established by a gradient in the outflow mass loading factor, combined with radial inflow of metal-enriched gas.

We present the first rest-frame optical spectroscopic survey of a large sample of low-luminosity galaxies at high redshift (L < L*, 1.5 < z < 3.5). This population dominates the star formation density of the universe at high redshifts, yet such galaxies are normally too faint to be studied spectroscopically. We take advantage of strong gravitational lensing magnification to compile observations for a sample of 29 galaxies using modest integration times with the Keck and Palomar telescopes. Balmer emission lines confirm that the sample has a median SFR ∼ 10 M_sun yr^−1 and extends to lower SFR than has been probed by other surveys at similar redshift. We derive the metallicity, dust extinction, SFR, ionization parameter, and dynamical mass from the spectroscopic data, providing the first accurate characterization of the star-forming environment in low-luminosity galaxies at high redshift. For the first time, we directly test the proposal that the relation between galaxy stellar mass, star formation rate, and gas phase metallicity does not evolve. We find lower gas phase metallicity in the high redshift galaxies than in local sources with equivalent stellar mass and star formation rate, arguing against a time-invariant relation. While our result is preliminary and may be biased by measurement errors, this represents an important first measurement that will be further constrained by ongoing analysis of the full data set and by future observations.

We present a study of composite rest-frame ultraviolet spectra of Lyman break galaxies at z = 4 and discuss implications for the distribution of neutral outflowing gas in the circumgalactic medium. In general we find similar spectroscopic trends to those found at z = 3 by earlier surveys. In particular, absorption lines which trace neutral gas are weaker in less evolved galaxies with lower stellar masses, smaller radii, lower luminosity, less dust, and stronger Lyα emission. Typical galaxies are thus expected to have stronger Lyα emission and weaker low-ionization absorption at earlier times, and we indeed find somewhat weaker low-ionization absorption at higher redshifts. In conjunction with earlier results, we argue that the reduced low-ionization absorption is likely caused by lower covering fraction and/or velocity range of outflowing neutral gas at earlier epochs. This result has important implications for the hypothesis that early galaxies were responsible for cosmic reionization. We additionally show that fine structure emission lines are sensitive to the spatial extent of neutral gas, and demonstrate that neutral gas is concentrated at smaller galactocentric radii in higher redshift galaxies.

The results of this thesis present a coherent picture of galaxy evolution at high redshifts 2 ≲ z ≲ 4. Roughly 1/3 of massive star forming galaxies at this period are undergoing major mergers, while the rest are growing inside-out with star formation occurring in gravitationally unstable thick disks. Star formation, stellar mass, and metallicity are limited by outflows which create a circumgalactic medium of metal-enriched material. We conclude by describing some remaining open questions and prospects for improving our understanding of galaxy evolution with future observations of gravitationally lensed galaxies.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Galaxy formation
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy
Major Option:Astrophysics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Ellis, Richard S.
Thesis Committee:
  • Ellis, Richard S.
  • Hirata, Christopher M. (chair)
  • Scoville, Nicholas Zabriskie
  • Cohen, Judith G.
  • Steidel, Charles C.
Defense Date:16 August 2012
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:04082013-194357946
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:7591
Deposited By: Tucker Jones
Deposited On:07 May 2013 21:29
Last Modified:07 May 2013 21:29

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