Contamination of broadband photometry by nebular emission in high-redshift galaxies: Investigations with Keck's Mosfire near-infrared spectrograph

Matthew A. Schenker, Richard S. Ellis, Nick P. Konidaris, Daniel P. Stark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

50 Scopus citations

Abstract

Earlier work has raised the potential importance of nebular emission in the derivation of the physical characteristics of high-redshift Lyman break galaxies. Within certain redshift ranges, and especially at z ≃ 6-7, such lines may be strong enough to reduce estimates of the stellar masses and ages of galaxies compared with those derived assuming the broadband photometry represents stellar light alone. To test this hypothesis at the highest redshifts where such lines can be probed with ground-based facilities, we examine the near-infrared spectra of a representative sample of 28 3.0 < z < 3.8 Lyman break galaxies using the newly commissioned MOSFIRE near-infrared spectrograph at the Keck I telescope. We use these data to derive the rest-frame equivalent widths (EWs) of [O III] emission and show that these are comparable with estimates derived using the spectral energy distribution (SED) fitting technique introduced for sources of known redshift by Stark et al. Although our current sample is modest, its [O III] EW distribution is consistent with that inferred for Hα based on SED fitting of Stark et al.'s larger sample of 3.8 < z < 5 galaxies. For a subset of survey galaxies, we use the combination of optical and near-infrared spectroscopy to quantify kinematics of outflows in z ≃ 3.5 star-forming galaxies and discuss the implications for reionization measurements. The trends we uncover underline the dangers of relying purely on broadband photometry to estimate the physical properties of high-redshift galaxies and emphasize the important role of diagnostic spectroscopy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number67
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Volume777
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2013

Keywords

  • galaxies: evolution
  • galaxies: high-redshift
  • galaxies: starburst

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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