Low-mass bursty galaxies in JADES efficiently produce ionizing photons and could represent the main drivers of reionization

C. Simmonds, S. Tacchella, K. Hainline, B. D. Johnson, W. McClymont, B. Robertson, Aayush Saxena, Fengwu Sun, C. Witten, William M. Baker, R. Bhatawdekar, K. Boyett, A. J. Bunker, S. Charlot, E. Curtis-Lake, E. Egami, D. J. Eisenstein, R. Hausen, R. Maiolino, M. V. MasedaJ. Scholtz, C. C. Williams, C. Willot, J. Witstok

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We use deep imaging from the JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey (JADES) to study the evolution of the ionizing photon production efficiency, ζion. We estimate ζion for a sample of 677 galaxies at z ∼4-9 using NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) photometry. Specifically, combinations of the medium and wide bands F335M-F356W and F410M-F444W to constrain emission lines that trace ζion: Hα and [O iii]. Additionally, we use the spectral energy distribution fitting code prospector to fit all available photometry and infer galaxy properties. The flux measurements obtained via photometry are consistent with FRESCO (First Reionisation Epoch Spectroscopic Complete Survey) and NIRSpec-derived fluxes. Moreover, the emission-line-inferred measurements are consistent with the prospector estimates. We also confirm the observed ζion trend with redshift and MUV, and find: log ζion(z, MUV) = (0.05 ± 0.02)z + (0.11 ± 0.02)MUV + (27.33 ± 0.37). We use prospector to investigate correlations of ζion with other galaxy properties. We see a clear correlation between ζion and burstiness in the star formation history of galaxies, given by the ratio of recent to older star formation, where burstiness is more prevalent at lower stellar masses. We also convolve our ζion relations with luminosity functions from the literature, and constant escape fractions of 10 per cent and 20 per cent, to place constraints on the cosmic ionizing photon budget. By combining our results, we find that if our sample is representative of the faint low-mass galaxy population, galaxies with bursty star formation are efficient enough in producing ionizing photons and could be responsible for the reionization of the Universe.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6139-6157
Number of pages19
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
Early online date22 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2024


  • astro-ph.GA
  • galaxies: general
  • galaxies: evolution
  • dark ages, reionization, first stars
  • galaxies: high-redshift


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