Lyman continuum leaking galaxies. Search strategies and local candidates⋆
1 Department of Physics and Astronomy, Uppsala University, Box 515, 751 20 Uppsala, Sweden
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
2 Department of Astronomy, Stockholm University, Oscar Klein Center, AlbaNova, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
Received: 10 November 2011
Accepted: 26 February 2013
Context. Star-forming dwarf galaxies may have played an important role in the reionization of the Universe, provided that some fraction of their ionizing radiation were able to escape into the intergalactic medium. Local galaxies exhibiting such Lyman-continuum (LyC) leakage could potentially shed light on the escape mechanisms involved, but only two low-redshift cases of LyC leakage have been identified so far. Here, we argue that this meager harvest may be caused by unsuitable selection criteria. Candidates for LyC leakage are normally selected by indicators of starburst activity, one of which is a high equivalent width in Hα. Such a criterion will guarantee a high production of LyC photons but will also bias the selection in favour of a high column density in the neutral gas, effectively ruling out LyC escape.
Aims. In this work we want to investigate whether the lack of local LyC emitters can be caused in part by biased selection criteria, and we present a novel method of selecting targets with high escape fractions. By applying these criteria, we assemble a sample of observation targets to study their basic properties.
Methods. We introduce a new selection strategy here where the potential LyC leakers are selected by their blue colours and weak emission lines. The selection is based on data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). We also take a closer look at the properties of 8 LyC leaking candidates at z ~ 0.03 which we have observed with ESO/NTT in broadband B and Hα.
Results. We find that 7 of the 8 target galaxies are involved in interaction with neighbours or show signs of mergers. In 7 cases the young stellar population is clearly displaced relative to the main body of these galaxies, often directly bordering the halo region. In about half of our targets the absorption spectra show young post-starburst signatures. Comparing the scale lengths in Hα with those of the stellar continua shows that the scale lengths in Hα typically are 30% smaller, which is characteristic of galaxies influenced by ram pressure stripping. We tentatively identify a few mechanisms that could improve the conditions for leakage: 1) the combined effects of ram pressure stripping with supernova winds from young stars formed in the front, 2) merger events that increase the star formation rate and displace stars from gas, 3) starbursts in the centres of post-starburst galaxies, whose previous activity has cleared channels for leakage into the intergalactic medium, and 4) a low dust content. Although our target galaxies are rare species in the local universe, we argue that related types could have played a major role in producing ionizing radiation at high redshifts.
Key words: methods: observational / dark ages, reionization, first stars / galaxies: evolution / galaxies: starburst / galaxies: interactions / ultraviolet: galaxies
© ESO, 2013