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New insights into the stellar content and physical conditions of star-forming galaxies at z = 2–3 from spectral modelling

J. Brinchmann, M. Pettini, S. Charlot

We have used extensive libraries of model and empirical galaxy spectra [assembled, respectively, from the population synthesis code of Bruzual and Charlot and the fourth data release of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS)] to interpret some puzzling features seen in the spectra of high-redshift star-forming galaxies. We show that a stellar He II λ1640 emission line, produced in the expanding atmospheres of Of andWolf–Rayet stars, should be detectable with an equivalent width of 0.5–1.5Å in the integrated spectra of star-forming galaxies, provided the metallicity is greater than about half solar. Our models reproduce the strength of the He II λ1640 line measured in the spectra of Lyman-break galaxies for established values of their metallicities. With better empirical calibrations in local galaxies, this spectral feature has the potential of becoming a useful diagnostic of massive star winds at high, as well as low redshifts.
We also uncover a relationship in SDSS galaxies between their location in the [O III]/Hβ versus [N II]/Hα diagnostic diagram (the BPT diagram) and their excess specific star formation rate relative to galaxies of similar mass. We infer that an elevated ionization parameter U is at the root of this effect, and propose that this is also the cause of the offset of high-redshift star-forming galaxies in the BPT diagram compared to local ones. We further speculate that higher electron densities and escape fractions of hydrogen ionizing photons may be the factors responsible for the systematically higher values ofUin theHII regions of high-redshift galaxies. The impact of such differences on abundance determinations from strong nebular lines are considered and found to be relatively minor.

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Volume 385, Page 769
2008 April

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Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço Universidade do Porto Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia
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