Dwarf galaxies as laboratories of protogalaxy physics: canonical star formation laws at low metallicity
In the upcoming decade, powerful new astronomical facilities such as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), and ground-based 30-meter telescopes will open up the epoch of reionization to direct astronomical observation. One of the primary tools used to understand the bulk astrophysical properties of the high-redshift universe are empirically-derived star-forming laws, which relate observed luminosity to fundamental astrophysical quantities such as star formation rate. The radio/infrared relation is one of the more mysterious of these relations: despite its somewhat uncertain astrophysical origins, this relation is extremely tight and linear, with 0.3 dex of scatter over five orders of magnitude in galaxy luminosity. The effects of primordial metallicities on canonical star-forming laws is an open question: a growing body of evidence suggests that the current empirical star forming laws may not be valid in the unenriched, metal-poor environment of the very early universe.
In the modern universe, nearby dwarf galaxies with less than 1/10th the Solar metal abundance provide an opportunity to recalibrate our star formation laws and study the astrophysics of extremely metal-deficient (XMD) environments in detail. I assemble a sample of nearby dwarf galaxies, all within 100 megaparsecs, with nebular oxygen abundances between 1/5th and 1/50th Solar. I identify the subsample of these galaxies with space-based mid- and far-infrared data, and investigate the effects of extreme metallicities on the infrared-radio relationship. For ten of these galaxies, I have acquired 40 hours of observations with the Jansky Very Large Array (JVLA). C-band (4-8 GHz) radio continuum emission is detected from all 10 of these galaxies. These represent the first radio continuum detections from seven galaxies in this sample: Leo A, UGC 4704, HS 0822+3542, SBS 0940+544, and SBS 1129+476. The radio continuum in these galaxies is strongly associated with the presence of optical H-alpha emission, with spectral slopes suggesting a mix of thermal and non-thermal sources. I use the ratio of the radio and far-infrared emission to investigate behavior of the C-band (4-8 GHz) radio/infrared relation at metallicities below 1/10th Solar.
I compare the low metallicity sample with the 4.8 GHz radio/infrared relationship from the KINGFISHER nearby galaxy sample Tabatabaei et al. 2017 and to the 1.4 GHz radio/infrared relationship from the blue compact dwarf galaxy sample of Wu et al. 2008. The infrared/radio ratio q of the low metallicity galaxies is below the average q of star forming galaxies in the modern universe. I compare these galaxies' infrared and radio luminosities to their corresponding Halpha luminosities, and find that both the infrared/Halpha and the radio/H-alpha ratios are reduced by nearly 1 dex in the low metallicity sample vs. higher metallicity galaxies; however the deficit is not straightforwardly interpreted as a metallicity effect.