ReportsAstronomy

Detection of an oxygen emission line from a high-redshift galaxy in the reionization epoch

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Science  24 Jun 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6293, pp. 1559-1562
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf0714

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Shining brightly in the early universe

Galaxies that formed early in the history of the universe were powerful sources of ultraviolet radiation. This radiation ionized the surrounding intergalactic medium during the “epoch of reionization.” Inoue et al. detected atomic emission lines from a galaxy at high redshift—seen as it was when the universe was only ~5% of its current age (see the Perspective by De Breuck). Data from optical, infrared, and submillimeter observatories determined its gas and dust content and the amount of ultraviolet radiation it emitted. Studying similar galaxies in such a manner will allow astronomers to determine how the first galaxies formed, evolved, and influenced their surroundings.

Science, this issue p. 1559; see also p. 1520

Abstract

The physical properties and elemental abundances of the interstellar medium in galaxies during cosmic reionization are important for understanding the role of galaxies in this process. We report the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array detection of an oxygen emission line at a wavelength of 88 micrometers from a galaxy at an epoch about 700 million years after the Big Bang. The oxygen abundance of this galaxy is estimated at about one-tenth that of the Sun. The nondetection of far-infrared continuum emission indicates a deficiency of interstellar dust in the galaxy. A carbon emission line at a wavelength of 158 micrometers is also not detected, implying an unusually small amount of neutral gas. These properties might allow ionizing photons to escape into the intergalactic medium.

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