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Ph.D. Defense: Ionized and atomic interstellar medium in star-forming galaxies
  Thesis defense

Thursday 01 December 2016
from 10:00 to 13:00
Speaker : Thøger Emil Rivera-Thorsen (Dept. of Astronomy)
Abstract : Star forming galaxies in the local Universe are an important laboratory for learning about conditions in the distant, early Universe. With a high frequency of interactions and mergers, strong star formation activity, and complex kinematics and often disturbed or irregular morphology, these galaxies are believed to be the best local analogs to the galaxies at early times, and can therefore help us understand the galaxies we observe at high redshifts in the early Universe. These early galaxies in turn hold the key to cosmological insights about the early Universe, including galaxy formation and early evolution, the onset of the first stars, formation of the Universe’s large scale structure, and the Epoch of Reionization. Many of these galaxies are primarily or only visible in the wavelengths of the Lyman α transition, corresponding to the energy shift in a transition from the first excited energy level to the ground state in atomic Hydrogen. However, Lyα radiation emitted from a galaxy interacts strongly with the neutral hydrogen in and around the galaxy, often transporting it over large distances before it is either absorbed by dust or escapes the galaxy far from the line of sight from its point of origin to Earth. Despite the intrinsic strength of the Lyα line, it is often completely absorbed or spread out over large projected areas of low surface density. The observed strength of Lyα is almost completely decoupled from the intrinsic strength and mainly regulated by the conditions in the gas it travels through. Therefore, to correctly interpret what we observe int Lyα at high redshifts, it is necessary to understand which processes regulate and which conditions facilitate its escape. Young starburst galaxies are also the main suspect for causing the reionization of the young Universe. To do so, however, the ionizing photons produced in the central starburst regions of the galaxies need to be able to reach the intergalactic gas. Like Lyα, the ionizing radiation (the Lyman Continuum) also interacts with the neutral medium. While not as strongly as for Lyα, it is still strong enough that at the onset of this project, only two galaxies in the local Universe were confirmed leakers of the Lyman Continuum. Since then, another few handful local candidates and confirmed leakers have been announced, but still far from the escape fractions needed at high redshift to reionize the early Universe. Identifying which properties of the ISM govern Lyman Continuum escape, and how these evolve with redshift, is a hot topicin extragalactic astronomy these years. This thesis consists of projects which, in each their way, aim to deepen our understanding of these matters. One project, LARS, aims to understand which processes govern Lyα radiative transfer through careful, in-depth studies of a sample of 14 local starburst galaxies with a selection of powerful telescopes and instruments. My contribution to this was a spectroscopic analysis of the central star-forming regions to understand their physical properties (Paper I), and of neutral Hydrogen interstellar and circumgalactic systems which interact with Lyα radiation on its way out of the galaxies (Paper II). In Paper III, I performed deeper, more detailed spectroscopic analyses of the central recombination regions in two local-universe starburst galaxies, of which one is a known Lyman Continuum leaker. Finally, in Papers IV and V, focus is shifted somewhat to combine information in Lyα and Lyman Continuum (and, in the case of Paper IV, other auxiliary data) from observations of the two first known Lyman Continuum leakers, to understand which configurations of neutral gas would allow for the combination of Lyman Continuum leakage and Lyα spectral and physical morphology that is observed

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