We study the escape of Lyα photons from Lyα emitting galaxies (LAEs) and the overall galaxy population using a sample of 99 LAEs at 1.9 < z < 3.8 detected through integral-field spectroscopy of blank fields by The Hobby Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment Pilot Survey. For 89 LAEs with broadband counterparts we measure ultraviolet (UV) luminosities and UV slopes, and estimate E(B - V) under the assumption of a constant intrinsic UV slope for LAEs. These quantities are used to estimate dust-corrected star formation rates (SFRs). Comparison between the observed Lyα luminosity and that predicted by the dust-corrected SFR yields the Lyα escape fraction. We also measure the Lyα luminosity function and luminosity density (ρ Lyα) at 2 < z < 4. Using this and other measurements from the literature at 0.3 < z < 7.7 we trace the redshift evolution of ρLyα. We compare it to the expectations from the star formation history of the universe and characterize the evolution of the Lyα escape fraction of galaxies. LAEs at 2 < z < 4 selected down to a luminosity limit of L(Lyα) > (3-6) × 1042ergs -1 (0.25-0.5 L*), have a mean 〈E(B - V)〉 = 0.13 ± 0.01, implying an attenuation of ∼70% in the UV. They show a median UV uncorrected SFR = 11 M⊙yr-1, dust-corrected SFR = 34 M⊙yr-1, and Lyα equivalent widths (EWs) which are consistent with normal stellar populations. We measure a median Lyα escape fraction of 29%, with a large scatter and values ranging from a few percent to 100%. The Lyα escape fraction in LAEs correlates with E(B - V) in a way that is expected if Lyα photons suffer from similar amounts of dust extinction as UV continuum photons. This result implies that a strong enhancement of the Lyα EW with dust, due to a clumpy multi-phase interstellar medium (ISM), is not a common process in LAEs at these redshifts. It also suggests that while in other galaxies Lyα can be preferentially quenched by dust due to its scattering nature, this is not the case in LAEs. We find no evolution in the average dust content and Lyα escape fraction of LAEs from z ∼ 4 to 2. We see hints of a drop in the number density of LAEs from z ∼ 4 to 2 in the redshift distribution and the Lyα luminosity function, although larger samples are required to confirm this. The mean Lyα escape fraction of the overall galaxy population decreases significantly from z ∼ 6 to z ∼ 2, in agreement with recent results. Our results point toward a scenario in which star-forming galaxies build up significant amounts of dust in their ISM between z ∼ 6 and 2, reducing their Lyα escape fraction, with LAE selection preferentially detecting galaxies which have the highest escape fractions given their dust content. The fact that a large escape of Lyα photons is reached by z ∼ 6 implies that better constraints on this quantity at higher redshifts might detect re-ionization in a way that is uncoupled from the effects of dust.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science