The Stellar Populations and Evolution of Lyman Break Galaxies

Casey Papovich, Mark Dickinson, Henry C. Ferguson
2001 Astrophysical Journal  
Using deep near-IR and optical observations of the HDF-N from the HST NICMOS and WFPC2 and from the ground, we examine the spectral energy distributions (SEDs) of Lyman break galaxies (LBGs) at 2.0 < z < 3.5. The UV-to-optical rest-frame SEDs of the galaxies are much bluer than those of present-day spiral and elliptical galaxies, and are generally similar to those of local starburst galaxies with modest amounts of reddening. We use stellar population synthesis models to study the properties of
more » ... the properties of the stars that dominate the light from LBGs. Under the assumption that the star-formation rate is continuous or decreasing with time, the best-fitting models provide a lower bound on the LBG mass estimates. LBGs with "L*" UV luminosities are estimated to have minimum stellar masses ~ 10^10 solar masses, or roughly 1/10th that of a present-day L* galaxy. By considering the effects of a second component of maximally-old stars, we set an upper bound on the stellar masses that is ~ 3-8 times the minimum estimate. We find only loose constraints on the individual galaxy ages, extinction, metallicities, initial mass functions, and prior star-formation histories. We find no galaxies whose SEDs are consistent with young (< 10^8 yr), dust-free objects, which suggests that LBGs are not dominated by "first generation" stars, and that such objects are rare at these redshifts. We also find that the typical ages for the observed star-formation events are significantly younger than the time interval covered by this redshift range (~ 1.5 Gyr). From this, and from the relative absence of candidates for quiescent, non-star-forming galaxies at these redshifts in the NICMOS data, we suggest that star formation in LBGs may be recurrent, with short duty cycles and a timescale between star-formation events of < 1 Gyr. [Abridged]
doi:10.1086/322412 fatcat:rbt24rt3tfevpkfspuembhkxau