Constraints on the production and escape of ionizing radiation from the emission-line spectra of metal-poor star-forming galaxies

Plat, A.; Charlot, S.; Bruzual, G.; Feltre, A.; Vidal-GarcĂ­a, A.; Morisset, C.; Chevallard, J.; Todt, H.

We explore the production and escape of ionizing photons in young galaxies by investigating the ultraviolet and optical emission-line properties of models of ionization-bounded and density-bounded H II regions, active-galactic-nucleus (AGN) narrow-line regions, and radiative shocks computed all using the same physically consistent description of element abundances and depletion on to dust grains down to very low metallicities. We compare these models with a reference sample of metal-poor star-forming galaxies and Lyman-continuum (LyC) leakers at various redshifts, which allows the simultaneous exploration of more spectral diagnostics than typically available at once for individual subsamples. We confirm that current single- and binary-star population synthesis models do not produce hard-enough radiation to account for the high-ionization emission of the most metal-poor galaxies. Introducing either an AGN or radiative-shock component brings models into agreement with observations. A published model including X-ray binaries is an attractive alternative to reproduce the observed rise in He II λ4686/Hβ ratio with decreasing oxygen abundance in metal-poor star-forming galaxies, but not the high observed He II λ4686/Hβ ratios of galaxies with large EW(Hβ). A source of harder ionizing radiation appears to be required in these extreme objects, such as an AGN or radiative-shock component, perhaps linked to an initial-mass-function bias towards massive stars at low metallicity. This would also account for the surprisingly high [O I]/[O III] ratios of confirmed LyC leakers relative to ionization-bounded models. We find no simple by-eye diagnostic of the nature of ionizing sources and the escape of LyC photon, which require proper simultaneous fits of several lines to be discriminated against.

Preprint (plat-todt-2019.pdf, 9.2MB)

Back to publication list