Lyman-a (Lya) is, intrinsically, the strongest nebular emission line in actively star-forming galaxies (SFGs), but its resonant nature and uncertain escape fraction limit its applicability. The structure, size, and morphology may be key to understand the escape of Lya photons and the nature of Lya emitters (LAEs). We investigate the rest-frame UV morphologies of a large sample of ~4000 LAEs from z~2 to z~6, selected in a uniform way with 16 different narrow- and medium-bands over the full COSMOS field (SC4K, Santos et al. in prep). From the magnitudes that we measure from UV stacks, we find that these galaxies are populating the faint end of the UV luminosity function. We find also that LAEs have roughly the same morphology from z~2 to z~6. The median size (re~1 kpc), ellipticities (slightly elongated with b/a~0.45), S\’ersic index (disk-like with n<2), and light concentration (comparable to that of disk or irregular galaxies, with C~2.7) show little to no evolution. LAEs with the highest equivalent widths (EW) are the smallest/most compact (re~0.8 kpc, compared to re~1.5 kpc for the lower EW LAEs). In a scenario where galaxies with a high Lya escape fraction are more frequent in compact objects, these results are a natural consequence of the small sizes of LAEs. When compared to other SFGs, LAEs are found to be smaller at all redshifts. The difference between the two populations changing with redshift, from a factor of ~1 at z>5 to SFGs being a factor of ~2-4 larger than LAEs for z<2. This means that at the highest redshifts, where typical sizes approach those of LAEs, the fraction of galaxies showing Lya in emission should be much higher, consistent with observations.
A. Paulino-Afonso, D. Sobral, B. Ribeiro, et. al.
Fri, 15 Sep 17
Comments: 17 pages, 12 figures. Submitted to MNRAS on July 25, 2017. Comments are welcome