The VANDELS survey: the ionizing properties of star-forming galaxies at 3 ≤ z ≤ 5 using deep rest-frame ultraviolet spectroscopy

A. Saldana-Lopez, D. Schaerer, J. Chisholm, A. Calabrò, L. Pentericci, F. Cullen, A. Saxena, R. Amorín, A. C. Carnall, F. Fontanot, J. P.U. Fynbo, L. Guaita, N. P. Hathi, P. Hibon, Z. Ji, D. J. McLeod, E. Pompei, G. Zamorani

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9 Citations (Scopus)


The physical properties of Epoch of Reionization (EoR) galaxies are still poorly constrained by observations. To better understand the ionizing properties of galaxies in the EoR, we investigate deep, rest-frame ultraviolet (UV) spectra of ≃500 star-forming galaxies at 3 ≤ z ≤ 5 selected from the public ESO-VANDELS spectroscopic survey. The absolute ionizing photon escape fraction (fescabs, i.e. the ratio of leaking against produced ionizing photons) is derived by combining absorption line measurements with estimates of the UV attenuation. The ionizing production efficiency (ξion, i.e. the number of ionizing photons produced per non-ionizing UV luminosity) is calculated by fitting the far-UV (FUV) stellar continuum of the VANDELS galaxies. We find that the fescabs and ξion parameters increase towards low-mass, blue UV-continuum slopes and strong Ly α emitting galaxies, and both are slightly higher-than-average for the UV-faintest galaxies in the sample. Potential Lyman Continuum Emitters (LCEs, fescabs ≥ 5 per cent) and selected Lyman Alpha Emitters (LAEs, WLyα ≤ −20 Å) show systematically higher ξion (log ξion(Hz erg−1) ≈ 25.38, 25.41) than non-LCEs and non-LAEs (log ξion(Hz erg−1) ≈ 25.18, 25.14) at similar UV magnitudes. This indicates very young underlying stellar populations (≈10 Myr) at relatively low metallicities (≈0.2 Z⊙). The FUV non-ionizing spectra of potential LCEs is characterized by blue UV slopes (≤−2), enhanced Ly α emission (≤−25 Å), strong UV nebular lines (e.g. high C IV1550/C III1908 ≥0.75 ratios), and weak absorption lines (≤1 Å). The latter suggests the existence of low gas-column-density channels in the interstellar medium, which enables the escape of ionizing photons. By comparing our VANDELS results against other surveys in the literature, our findings imply that the ionizing budget in the EoR was likely dominated by UV-faint, low-mass, and dustless galaxies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6295-6325
Number of pages31
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2023


  • dark ages
  • dust
  • extinction
  • first stars
  • galaxies: high-redshift
  • galaxies: ISM
  • galaxies: stellar content
  • reionization
  • ultraviolet: galaxies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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