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Astrophysical Journal


We have obtained spectra with the 10 m Keck telescope of a sample of 24 galaxies having colors consistent with star-forming galaxies at redshifts 2 ≲ z ≲ 4.5 in the Hubble deep field (HDF). Eleven of these galaxies are confirmed to be at high redshift (z = 3.0), one is at z = 0.5, and the other 12 have uncertain redshifts but have spectra consistent with their being at z > 2. The spectra of the confirmed high-redshift galaxies show a diversity of features, including weak Lyα emission, strong Lyα breaks or damped Lyα absorption profiles, and the stellar and interstellar rest-UV absorption lines common to local starburst galaxies and high-redshift star-forming galaxies reported recently by others. The narrow profiles and low equivalent widths of C IV, Si IV, and N V absorption lines may imply low stellar metallicities. Combined with the five high-redshift galaxies in the HDF previously confirmed with Keck spectra by Steidel et al. (1996a), the 16 confirmed sources yield a comoving volume density of n ≥ 2.4 × 10 h Mpc for q = 0.05, or n ≥ 1.1 × 10 h Mpc for q = 0.5. These densities are 3-4 times higher than the recent estimates of Steidel et al. (1996b) based on ground-based photometry with slightly brighter limits and are comparable to estimates of the local volume density of galaxies brighter than L*. The high-redshift density measurement is only a lower limit and could be almost 3 times higher still if all 29 of the unconfirmed candidates in our original sample, including those not observed, are indeed also at high redshift. The galaxies are small but luminous, with half-light radii 1.8 < r < 6.5 h kpc and absolute magnitudes -21.5 > M > -23. The HST images show a wide range of morphologies, including several with very close, small knots of emission embedded in wispy extended structures. Using rest-frame UV continuum fluxes with no dust correction, we calculate star formation rates in the range 7-24 or 3-9 h M yr for q = 0.05 and q = 0.5, respectively. These rates overlap those for local spiral and H II galaxies today, although they could be more than twice as high if dust extinction in the UV is significant. If the objects at z = 3 were simply to fade by 5 mag (assuming a 10 yr burst and passive evolution) without mergers in the 14 Gyr between then and now (for q = 0.05, h = 1.0), they would resemble average dwarf elliptical/spheroidal galaxies in both luminosity and size. However, the variety of morphologies and the high number density of z = 3 galaxies in the HDF suggest that they represent a range of physical processes and stages of galaxy formation and evolution, rather than any one class of object, such as massive ellipticals. A key issue remains the measurement of masses. These high-redshift objects are likely to be the low-mass, starbursting building blocks of more massive galaxies seen today.


Galaxies: distances and redshifts, Galaxies: evolution, Galaxies: starburst, Surveys





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Peer reviewed accepted manuscript.



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