skip to main content

Title: Stellar associations powering H  ii  regions – I. Defining an evolutionary sequence

Connecting the gas in H ii regions to the underlying source of the ionizing radiation can help us constrain the physical processes of stellar feedback and how H ii regions evolve over time. With PHANGS–MUSE, we detect nearly 24 000 H ii regions across 19 galaxies and measure the physical properties of the ionized gas (e.g. metallicity, ionization parameter, and density). We use catalogues of multiscale stellar associations from PHANGS–HST to obtain constraints on the age of the ionizing sources. We construct a matched catalogue of 4177 H ii regions that are clearly linked to a single ionizing association. A weak anticorrelation is observed between the association ages and the $\mathrm{H}\, \alpha$ equivalent width $\mathrm{EW}(\mathrm{H}\, \alpha)$, the $\mathrm{H}\, \alpha/\mathrm{FUV}$ flux ratio, and the ionization parameter, log q. As all three are expected to decrease as the stellar population ages, this could indicate that we observe an evolutionary sequence. This interpretation is further supported by correlations between all three properties. Interpreting these as evolutionary tracers, we find younger nebulae to be more attenuated by dust and closer to giant molecular clouds, in line with recent models of feedback-regulated star formation. We also observe strong correlations with the local metallicity variations and all three proposed age tracers, suggestive of star formation preferentially occurring in locations of locally enhanced metallicity. Overall, $\mathrm{EW}(\mathrm{H}\, \alpha)$ and log q show the most consistent trends and appear to be most reliable tracers for the age of an H ii region.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; more » ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; « less
Publisher / Repository:
Oxford University Press
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 2369-2383
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) play a critical role in the reprocessing of stellar radiation and balancing the heating and cooling processes in the interstellar medium but appear to be destroyed in Hiiregions. However, the mechanisms driving their destruction are still not completely understood. Using PHANGS–JWST and PHANGS–MUSE observations, we investigate how the PAH fraction changes in about 1500 Hiiregions across four nearby star-forming galaxies (NGC 628, NGC 1365, NGC 7496, and IC 5332). We find a strong anticorrelation between the PAH fraction and the ionization parameter (the ratio between the ionizing photon flux and the hydrogen density) of Hiiregions. This relation becomes steeper for more luminous Hiiregions. The metallicity of Hiiregions has only a minor impact on these results in our galaxy sample. We find that the PAH fraction decreases with the Hαequivalent width—a proxy for the age of the Hiiregions—although this trend is much weaker than the one identified using the ionization parameter. Our results are consistent with a scenario where hydrogen-ionizing UV radiation is the dominant source of PAH destruction in star-forming regions.

    more » « less
  2. null (Ed.)
    Abstract We present a joint analysis of rest-UV and rest-optical spectra obtained using Keck/LRIS and Keck/MOSFIRE for a sample of 62 star-forming galaxies at z ∼ 2.3. We divide our sample into two bins based on their location in the [OIII]5007/Hβ vs. [NII]6584/Hα BPT diagram, and perform the first differential study of the rest-UV properties of massive ionizing stars as a function of rest-optical emission-line ratios. Fitting BPASS stellar population synthesis models, including nebular continuum emission, to our rest-UV composite spectra, we find that high-redshift galaxies offset towards higher [OIII]λ5007/Hβ and [NII]λ6584/Hα have younger ages ($\log (\textrm {~Age/yr})=7.20^{+0.57}_{-0.20}$) and lower stellar metallicities ($Z_*=0.0010^{+0.0011}_{-0.0003}$) resulting in a harder ionizing spectrum, compared to the galaxies in our sample that lie on the local BPT star-forming sequence ($\log (\textrm {Age/yr})=8.57^{+0.88}_{-0.84}$, $Z_*=0.0019^{+0.0006}_{-0.0006}$). Additionally, we find that the offset galaxies have an ionization parameter of $\log (U)=-3.04^{+0.06}_{-0.11}$ and nebular metallicity of ($12+\log (\textrm {~O/H})=8.40^{+0.06}_{-0.07}$), and the non-offset galaxies have an ionization parameter of $\log (U)=-3.11^{+0.08}_{-0.08}$ and nebular metallicity of $12+\log (\textrm {~O/H})=8.30^{+0.05}_{-0.06}$. The stellar and nebular metallicities derived for our sample imply that the galaxies offset from the local BPT relation are more α-enhanced ($7.28^{+2.52}_{-2.82}\textrm {~O/Fe}_{\odot }$) compared to those consistent with the local sequence ($3.04^{+0.95}_{-0.54}\textrm {~O/Fe}_{\odot }$). However, even galaxies that are entirely consistent with the local nebular excitation sequence appear to be α-enhanced – in contrast with typical local systems. Such differences must be considered when estimating gas-phase oxygen abundances at high redshift based on strong emission-line ratios. Specifically, a similarity in the location of high-redshift and local galaxies in the BPT diagram may not be indicative of a similarity in their physical properties. 
    more » « less
  3. null (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT We present constraints on the massive star and ionized gas properties for a sample of 62 star-forming galaxies at z ∼ 2.3. Using BPASS stellar population models, we fit the rest-UV spectra of galaxies in our sample to estimate age and stellar metallicity which, in turn, determine the ionizing spectrum. In addition to the median properties of well-defined subsets of our sample, we derive the ages and stellar metallicities for 30 high-SNR individual galaxies – the largest sample of individual galaxies at high redshift with such measurements. Most galaxies in this high-SNR subsample have stellar metallicities of 0.001 < Z* < 0.004. We then use Cloudy + BPASS photoionization models to match observed rest-optical line ratios and infer nebular properties. Our high-SNR subsample is characterized by a median ionization parameter and oxygen abundance, respectively, of log (U)med = −2.98 ± 0.25 and 12 + log (O/H)med = 8.48 ± 0.11. Accordingly, we find that all galaxies in our sample show evidence for α-enhancement. In addition, based on inferred log (U) and 12 + log (O/H) values, we find that the local relationship between ionization parameter and metallicity applies at z ∼ 2. Finally, we find that the high-redshift galaxies most offset from the local excitation sequence in the BPT diagram are the most α-enhanced. This trend suggests that α-enhancement resulting in a harder ionizing spectrum at fixed oxygen abundance is a significant driver of the high-redshift galaxy offset on the BPT diagram relative to local systems. The ubiquity of α-enhancement among z ∼ 2.3 star-forming galaxies indicates important differences between high-redshift and local galaxies that must be accounted for in order to derive physical properties at high redshift. 
    more » « less

    The ionizing photon escape fraction [Lyman continuum (LyC) fesc] of star-forming galaxies is the single greatest unknown in the reionization budget. Stochastic sightline effects prohibit the direct separation of LyC leakers from non-leakers at significant redshifts. Here we circumvent this uncertainty by inferring fesc using resolved (R > 4000) Lyman α (Lyα) profiles from the X-SHOOTER Lyα survey at z = 2 (XLS-z2). With empirically motivated criteria, we use Lyα profiles to select leakers ($f_{\mathrm{ esc}} > 20{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$) and non-leakers ($f_{\mathrm{ esc}} < 5{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$) from a representative sample of >0.2L* Lyman α emitters (LAEs). We use median stacked spectra of these subsets over λrest ≈ 1000–8000 Å to investigate the conditions for LyC fesc. Our stacks show similar mass, metallicity, MUV, and βUV. We find the following differences between leakers versus non-leakers: (i) strong nebular C iv and He ii emission versus non-detections; (ii) [O iii]/[O ii] ≈ 8.5 versus ≈3; (iii) Hα/Hβ indicating no dust versus E(B − V) ≈ 0.3; (iv) Mg ii emission close to the systemic velocity versus redshifted, optically thick Mg ii; and (v) Lyα fesc of ${\approx} 50{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$ versus ${\approx} 10{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$. The extreme equivalent widths (EWs) in leakers ([O iii]+$\mathrm{ H}\beta \approx 1100$ Å rest frame) constrain the characteristic time-scale of LyC escape to ≈3–10 Myr bursts when short-lived stars with the hardest ionizing spectra shine. The defining traits of leakers – extremely ionizing stellar populations, low column densities, a dust-free, high-ionization state interstellar medium (ISM) – occur simultaneously in the $f_{\rm esc} > 20{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$ stack, suggesting they are causally connected, and motivating why indicators like [O iii]/[O ii] may suffice to constrain fesc at z > 6 with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The leakers comprise half of our sample, have a median LyC$f_{\rm esc} \approx 50{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$ (conservative range: $20\!-\!55{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$), and an ionizing production efficiency $\log ({\xi _{\rm {ion}}/\rm {Hz\ erg^{-1}}})\approx 25.9$ (conservative range: 25.7–25.9). These results show LAEs – the type of galaxies rare at z ≈ 2, but that become the norm at higher redshift – are highly efficient ionizers, with extreme ξion and prolific fesc occurring in sync.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract The NGC 346 young stellar system and associated N66 giant H ii region in the Small Magellanic Cloud are the nearest example of a massive star-forming event in a low metallicity ( Z ≈ 0.2 Z ⊙ ) galaxy. With an age of ≲3 Myr this system provides a unique opportunity to study relationships between massive stars and their associated H ii region. Using archival data, we derive a total H α luminosity of L (H α ) = 4.1 × 10 38 erg s −1 corresponding to an H-photoionization rate of 3 × 10 50 s −1 . A comparison with a predicted stellar ionization rate derived from the more than 50 known O-stars in NGC 346, including massive stars recently classified from Hubble Space Telescope far-ultraviolet (FUV) spectra, indicates an approximate ionization balance. Spectra obtained with SALT suggest the ionization structure of N66 could be consistent with some leakage of ionizing photons. Due to the low metallicity, the FUV luminosity from NGC 346 is not confined to the interstellar cloud associated with N66. Ionization extends through much of the spatial extent of the N66 cloud complex, and most of the cloud mass is not ionized. The stellar mass estimated from nebular L (H α ) appears to be lower than masses derived from the census of resolved stars which may indicate a disconnect between the formation of high and low mass stars in this region. We briefly discuss implications of the properties of N66 for studies of star formation and stellar feedback in low metallicity environments. 
    more » « less