VLT/FORS2 view at z ~ 6: Lyman-α emitter fraction and galaxy physical properties at the edge of the epoch of cosmic reionization

De Barros, S. and Pentericci, L. and Vanzella, E. and Castellano, M. and Fontana, A. and Grazian, A. and Conselice, Christopher J. and Yan, H. and Koekemoer, A. and Cristiani, S. and Dickinson, M. and Finkelstein, S.L. and Maiolino, R. (2017) VLT/FORS2 view at z ~ 6: Lyman-α emitter fraction and galaxy physical properties at the edge of the epoch of cosmic reionization. Astronomy & Astrophysics, 608 . A123/1-A123/13. ISSN 1432-0746

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The fraction of Lyman-α emitters (LAEs) among the galaxy population has been found to increase from z ~ 0 to z ~ 6 and drop dramatically at z> 6. This drop has been interpreted as an effect of an increasingly neutral intergalactic medium (IGM) with increasing redshift, while a Lyman continuum escape fraction evolving with redshift and/or a sudden change of galaxy physical properties can also contribute to the decreasing LAE fraction. We report the result of a large VLT/FORS2 program aiming to confirm spectroscopically a large galaxy sample at z ≥ 6 that has been selected in several independent fields through the Lyman break technique. Combining those data with archival data, we create a large and homogeneous sample of z ~ 6 galaxies (N = 127), complete in terms of Lyα detection at > 95% for Lyα equivalent width EW(Lyα) ≥ 25 Å. We use this sample to derive a new measurement of the LAE fraction at z ~ 6 and derive the physical properties of these galaxies through spectral energy distribution (SED) fitting. We find a median LAE fraction at z ~ 6 lower than in previous studies, while our sample exhibits typical properties for z ~ 6 galaxies in terms of UV luminosity and UVβ slope. The comparison of galaxy physical properties between LAEs and non-LAEs is comparable to results at lower redshift: LAEs with the largest EW(Lyα) exhibit bluer UV slopes, are slightly less massive and less star-forming. The main difference between LAEs and non-LAEs is that the latter are significantly dustier. Using predictions of our SED fitting code accounting for nebular emission, we find an effective Lyα escape fraction fesceff(Lyα) = 0.23-0.17+0.36 remarkably consistent with the value derived by comparing UV luminosity function with Lyα luminosity function. We conclude that the drop in the LAE fraction from z ~ 6 to z> 6 is less dramatic than previously found and the effect of an increasing IGM neutral fraction is possibly observed at 5 <z< 6. The processes driving the escape of Lyα photons at z ~ 6 are similar to those at lower redshifts and based on our derived fesceff(Lyα), we find that the IGM has a relatively small impact on Lyα photon visibility at z ~ 6, with a lower limit for the IGM transmission to Lyα photons, TIGM ≳ 0.20, likely due to the presence of outflows.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © ESO, 2017
Keywords: galaxies: high-redshift; galaxies: evolution; dark ages, reionization, first stars
Schools/Departments: University of Nottingham, UK > Faculty of Science > School of Physics and Astronomy
Identification Number: 10.1051/0004-6361/201731476
Depositing User: Eprints, Support
Date Deposited: 22 Jan 2018 11:10
Last Modified: 24 Jan 2018 01:28
URI: http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/49247

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