Fresh Perspectives on Star
Formation from LEGUS, the Legacy ExtraGalactic Ultraviolet Survey
David Thilker, Johns Hopkins University
The Legacy ExtraGalactic Ultraviolet Survey (LEGUS) was a Cycle 21 Large Treasury HST program which obtained ~parsec resolution NUV- to I-band WFC3 imaging for 50 nearby, representative star-forming Local Volume galaxies, with a primary goal of linking the scales of star formation from the limit of individual stars, to clusters and associations, eventually up through the hierarchy to giant star forming complexes and galaxy-scale morphological features.
I will review the basics of the survey, public data products and science team results pertaining to clusters and the field star hierarchy. I will then describe work to optimize photometric selection methods for massive main sequence O star candidates and LBV candidates, in the former case establishing a means to statistically constrain the fraction of O stars in very isolated locales. I will introduce new ideas on how to quantify the complex spatio-temporal nature of hierarchical star formation using multi-scale clustering methods. The first steps of this work have yielded a landmark OB association database for 36 LEGUS target fields (in 28 of the nearest available galaxies), with tracer stellar populations selected and interpreted uniformly. I will finish with discussion of a pilot HST program to demonstrate remarkably increased survey efficiency of WFC3 UV imaging enabled by use of extra-wide (X) filter bandpasses. Such efficiency is required as we move beyond LEGUS and begin to rigorously explore low surface brightness star-forming environments where canonical results for the IMF and cluster formation efficiency are increasingly called into question.
Understanding How Galaxies Reionized the Universe
Sanchayeeta Borthakur, Arizona State University
Identifying the population of galaxies that was responsible for the reionization of the universe is a long-standing quest in astronomy. While young stars can produce large amounts of ionizing photons, the mechanism behind the escape of Lyman continuum photons (wavelength < 912 A) from star-forming regions has eluded us. To identify such galaxies and to understand the process of the escape of Lyman continuum, we present an indirect technique known as the residual flux technique. Using this technique, we identified (and later confirmed) the first low-redshift galaxy that has an escape fraction of ionizing flux of 21%. This leaky galaxy provides us with valuable insights into the physics of starburst-driven feedback. In addition, since direct detection of ionizing flux is impossible at the epoch of reionization, the residual flux technique presents a highly valuable tool for future studies to be conducted with the upcoming large telescopes such as the JWST.
Cold Gas and the Evolution of Early-type Galaxies
Lisa Young, New Mexico Tech
A major theme of galaxy evolution is understanding how today’s Hubble sequence was
established — what makes some galaxies red spheroidals and others blue disks, and what
drives their relative numbers and their spatial distributions. One way of addressing these
questions is that galaxies themselves hold clues to their formation in their internal
structures. Recent observations of early-type galaxies in particular (ellipticals and
lenticulars) have shown that their seemingly placid, nearly featureless optical images can
be deceptive. Kinematic data show that the early-type galaxies have a wide variety of
internal kinematic structures that are the relics of dramatic merging and accretion
events. A surprising number of the early-type galaxies also contain cold atomic and
molecular gas, which is significant because their transitions to the red sequence must
involve removing most of their cold gas (the raw material for star formation). We can now
also read clues to the evolution of early-type galaxies in the kinematics and the
metallicity of their gas, and possibly also in the rare isotope abundance patterns in the
cold gas. Numerical simulations are beginning to work on reproducing these cold gas
properties, so that we can place the early-type galaxies into their broader context.