A New Technique for Finding Galaxies Leaking Lyman-continuum Radiation: [S ii]-deficiency

Bingjie Wang, Timothy M. Heckman, Claus Leitherer, Rachel Alexandroff, Sanchayeeta Borthakur, Roderik A. Overzier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


The source responsible for the reionization of the universe is believed to be the population of star-forming galaxies at z ∼ 6 to 12. The biggest uncertainty concerns the fraction of Lyman-continuum photons that actually escape from the galaxies. In recent years, several relatively small samples of "leaky" galaxies have been discovered, and clues have begun to emerge as to both the indirect signposts of leakiness and of the conditions/processes that enable the escape of ionizing radiation. In this paper we present the results of a pilot program to test a new technique for finding leaky galaxies, using the weakness of the [S ii] nebular emission lines relative to typical star-forming galaxies as evidence that the interstellar medium (ISM) is optically thin to the Lyman continuum. We use the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph on the Hubble Space Telescope to detect significant emerging flux below the Lyman edge in two out of three [S ii]-weak star-forming galaxies at z ∼ 0.3. We show that these galaxies differ markedly in their properties from the class of leaky "Green-Pea" galaxies at similar redshifts: our sample galaxies are more massive, more metal-rich, and less extreme in terms of their stellar population and the ionization state of the ISM. Like the Green Peas, they have exceptionally high star formation rates per unit area. They also share some properties with the known leaky galaxies at z ∼ 3, but are significantly dustier. Our results validate a new method to identify local laboratories for exploring the processes that made it possible for galaxies to reionize the universe.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number57
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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