SPICA as a probe of cosmic reionization

Current data indicate that the reionization of the Universe was complete by redshift z~6-7, and while the sources responsible for this process have yet to be identified, star-forming galaxies are often considered the most likely candidates. However, the contribution from z>6 galaxies to cosmic reionization critically depends on the fraction of ionizing (Lyman continuum, LyC) photons escaping from these objects and into the intergalactic medium. At z<4, the escaping LyC flux can be measured directly, but the opacity of the neutral intergalactic medium precludes such measurements at higher redshifts. In a recent paper, we argue that since the LyC escape fraction regulates the contribution of nebular emission to the rest-frame optical/UV spectra of galaxies, the James Webb Space Telescope should be able to indirectly assess the LyC escape fraction for galaxies at z~6-9. JWST can, on the other hand, not constrain the fraction of LyC photons directly absorbed by dust, and this is where SPICA comes in. The dust continuum emission from gravitationally lensed LyC-leakers at z=6 may in principle be detectable with SPICA, thereby constraining the level of LyC extinction in these objects.

Read this paper on arXiv…

Date added: Wed, 9 Oct 13