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Physics  2001 

The Rest Frame Optical Spectra of Lyman Break Galaxies: Star Formation, Extinction, Abundances, and Kinematics

DOI: 10.1086/321403

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We present the first results of a spectroscopic survey of Lyman break galaxies in the near-infrared aimed at detecting the emission lines of [O II], [O III], and Hbeta from the H II regions of star forming galaxies at z = 3. From observations of 19 objects with the Keck and VLT telescopes, we reach the following main conclusions. Contrary to expectations, the star formation rates deduced from the Hbeta luminosity are on average no larger than those implied by the stellar continuum at 1500 A; presumably any differential extinction between rest-frame optical and UV is small compared with the relative uncertainties in the calibrations of these two star formation tracers. For the galaxies in our sample, the abundance of O can only be determined to within one order of magnitude. Even so, it seems well established that LBGs are the most metal-enriched structures at z = 3, apart from QSOs, with abundances greater than about 1/10 solar. They are also significantly overluminous for their metallicities; this is probably an indication that their mass-to-light ratios are small compared with present-day galaxies. At face value their velocity dispersions, sigma = 50 - 115 km/s imply virial masses of about 10^{10} solar masses within half-light radii of 2.5 kpc. However, we are unable to establish if the widths of the emission lines do reflect the motions of the H II regions within the gravitational potential of the galaxies, even though in two cases we see hints of rotation curves. All 19 LBGs observed show evidence for galactic-scale superwinds; such outflows are important for regulating star formation, distributing metals over large volumes, and allowing Lyman continuum photons to escape and ionize the IGM.


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