Low Star Formation Efficiency in Typical Galaxies at z = 5-6

September 2019 • 2019ApJ...882..168P

Authors • Pavesi, Riccardo • Riechers, Dominik A. • Faisst, Andreas L. • Stacey, Gordon J. • Capak, Peter L.

Abstract • Using the Very Large Array and ALMA, we have obtained CO(2-1), [C II], and [N II] line emission and multiple dust continuum measurements in a sample of “normal” galaxies at z = 5-6. We report the highest-redshift detection of low-J CO emission from a Lyman break galaxy, at z ∼ 5.7. The CO line luminosity implies a massive molecular gas reservoir of (1.3 ± 0.3)(α CO/4.5 M (K km s-1 pc2)-1) × 1011 M , suggesting low star formation efficiency with a gas depletion timescale of order ∼1 Gyr. This efficiency is much lower than traditionally observed in z ≳ 5 starbursts, indicating that star-forming conditions in main-sequence galaxies at z ∼ 6 may be comparable to those of normal galaxies probed up to z ∼ 3 to date but with rising gas fractions across the entire redshift range. We also obtain a deep CO upper limit for a main-sequence galaxy at z ∼ 5.3 with an approximately three times lower star formation rate, perhaps implying a high α CO conversion factor, as typically found in low-metallicity galaxies. For a sample including both CO targets, we also find faint [N II] 205 μm emission relative to [C II] in all but the most IR-luminous “normal” galaxies at z = 5-6, implying more intense or harder radiation fields in the ionized gas relative to lower redshift. These radiation properties suggest that low metallicity may be common in typical ∼1010 M galaxies at z = 5-6. While a fraction of main-sequence star formation in the first billion yr may take place in conditions not dissimilar to lower redshift, lower metallicity may affect the remainder of the population.


IPAC Authors


Andreas Faisst

Assistant Scientist