Rachael M. Alexandroff, Timothy M. Heckman, Sanchayeeta Borthakur, Roderik Overzier, Claus Leitherer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


A population of early star-forming galaxies is the leading candidate for the re-ionization of the universe. It is still unclear, however, what conditions and physical processes would enable a significant fraction of the ionizing (Lyman continuum) photons to escape from these gas-rich galaxies. In this paper we present the results of the analysis of Hubble Space Telescope Cosmic Origins Spectrograph far-UV (FUV) spectroscopy plus ancillary multi-waveband data of a sample of 22 low-redshift galaxies that are good analogs to typical star-forming galaxies at high redshift. We measure three parameters that provide indirect evidence of the escape of ionizing radiation (leakiness): (1) the residual intensity in the cores of saturated interstellar low-ionization absorption lines, which indicates incomplete covering by that gas in the galaxy; (2) the relative amount of blueshifted Lyα line emission, which can indicate the existence of holes in the neutral hydrogen on the front-side of the galaxy outflow, and (3) the relative weakness of the [S ii] optical emission lines that trace matter-bounded H ii regions. We show that our residual intensity measures are only negligibly affected by infilling from resonance emission lines. We find all three diagnostics agree well with one another. We use these diagnostics to rank-order our sample in terms of likely leakiness, noting that a direct measure of escaping Lyman continuum has recently been made for one of the leakiest members of our sample. We then examine the correlations between our ranking and other proposed diagnostics of leakiness. We find a good correlation with the equivalent width of the Lyα emission line, but no significant correlations with either the flux ratio of the [O iii]/[O ii] emission lines or the ratio of star-formation rates derived from the (dust-corrected) FUV and Hα luminosities. Turning to galaxy properties, we find the strongest correlations with leakiness are with the compactness of the star-forming region (Star formation rate/area) and the speed of the galactic outflow. This suggests that extreme feedback - a high intensity of ionizing radiation and strong pressure from both radiation and a hot galactic wind - combines to create significant holes in the neutral gas. These results not only shed new light on the physical mechanisms that can allow ionizing radiation to escape from intensely star-forming galaxies, they also provide indirect observational indicators that can be used at high redshift where direct measurements of escaping Lyman continuum radiation are impossible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 10 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • ISM: jets and outflows
  • galaxies: ISM
  • galaxies: evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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