A VLT/FORS2 view at $z\sim6$: Lyman-$\alpha$ emitter fraction and galaxy physical properties at the edge of the epoch of cosmic reionization

Research paper by S. De Barros, L. Pentericci, E. Vanzella, M. Castellano, A. Fontana, A. Grazian, C. J. Conselice, H. Yan, A. Koekemoer, S. Cristiani, M. Dickinson, S. L. Finkelstein, R. Maiolino

Indexed on: 04 Oct '17Published on: 04 Oct '17Published in: arXiv - Astrophysics - Astrophysics of Galaxies


The fraction of Lyman-$\alpha$ emitters among the galaxy population has been found to increase from $z\sim0$ to $z\sim6$ and drop dramatically at $z>6$. This drop has been interpreted as an effect of an increasingly neutral intergalactic medium with increasing redshift, while a LyC escape fraction evolving with redshift. We report the result of a large VLT/FORS2 program aiming to confirm spectroscopically a large galaxy sample at $z\geq6$ that has been selected in several independent fields through the Lyman Break technique. Combining those data with archival data, we create a large and homogeneous sample of $z\sim6$ galaxies ($N=127$), complete in terms of Ly$\alpha$ detection at $>95\%$ for EW(Ly$\alpha)\geq25\AA$. We use this sample to derive a new measurement of the LAE fraction at $z\sim6$ and derive the physical properties of these galaxies through spectral energy distribution fitting. We find a median LAE fraction at $z\sim6$ lower than in previous studies. The main difference between LAEs and non-LAEs is that the latter are significantly dustier. Using predictions of our SED fitting code accounting for nebular emission, we find an effective Ly$\alpha$ escape fraction $f^{eff}_{esc}(Ly\alpha)=0.23^{+0.36}_{-0.17}$ remarkably consistent with the value derived by comparing UV luminosity function with Ly$\alpha$ luminosity function. We conclude that the drop in the LAE fraction from $z\sim6$ to $z>6$ is less dramatic than previously found and the effect of an increasing IGM neutral fraction is possibly observed at $5<z<6$. Based on our derived $f^{eff}_{esc}(Ly\alpha)$, we find that the IGM has a relatively small impact on Ly$\alpha$ photon visibility at $z\sim6$, with a lower limit for the IGM transmission to \lya\ photons, $T_{IGM}\gtrsim0.20$, likely due to the presence of outflows. [abdridged]