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Title: Seen and unseen: bursty star formation and its implications for observations of high-redshift galaxies with JWST

Both observations and simulations have shown strong evidence for highly time-variable star formation in low-mass and/or high-redshift galaxies, which has important observational implications because high-redshift galaxy samples are rest-ultraviolet (rest-UV) selected and therefore particularly sensitive to the recent star formation. Using a suite of cosmological ‘zoom-in’ simulations at z > 5 from the Feedback in Realistic Environments project, we examine the implications of bursty star formation histories for observations of high-redshift galaxies with JWST. We characterize how the galaxy observability depends on the star formation history. We also investigate selection effects due to bursty star formation on the physical properties measured, such as the gas fraction, specific star formation rate, and metallicity. We find the observability to be highly time-dependent for galaxies near the survey’s limiting flux due to the star formation rate variability: as the star formation rate fluctuates, the same galaxy oscillates in and out of the observable sample. The observable fraction $f_\mathrm{obs} = 50~{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$ at z ∼ 7 and M⋆ ∼ 108.5–$10^{9}\, {\rm M}_{\odot }$ for a JWST/NIRCam survey reaching a limiting magnitude of $m^\mathrm{lim}_\mathrm{AB} \sim 29{\!-\!}30$, representative of surveys such as JADES and CEERS. JWST-detectable galaxies near the survey limit tend to have properties characteristic of galaxies in the bursty phase: on average, they show approximately 2.5 times higher cold, dense gas fractions and 20 times higher specific star formation rates at a given stellar mass than galaxies below the rest-UV detection threshold. Our study represents a first step in quantifying selection effects and the associated biases due to bursty star formation in studying high-redshift galaxy properties.

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Award ID(s):
1652522 2108230 2307327
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Oxford University Press
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Medium: X Size: p. 2665-2672
["p. 2665-2672"]
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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