Building the First Galaxies—Chapter 2. Starbursts Dominate the Star Formation Histories of 6 < z < 12 Galaxies

Alan Dressler, Marcia Rieke, Daniel Eisenstein, Daniel P. Stark, Chris Burns, Rachana Bhatawdekar, Nina Bonaventura, Kristan Boyett, Andrew J. Bunker, Stefano Carniani, Stephane Charlot, Ryan Hausen, Karl Misselt, Sandro Tacchella, Christopher Willmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


We use SEDz*—a code designed to chart the star formation histories (SFHs) of 6 < z < 12 galaxies—to analyze the spectral energy distributions (SEDs) of 894 galaxies with deep JWST/NIRCam imaging by JADES in the GOODS-S field. We show how SEDz* matches observed SEDs using stellar-population templates, graphing the contribution of each epoch by epoch to confirm the robustness of the technique. Very good SED fits for most SFHs demonstrate the compatibility of the templates with stars in the first galaxies—as expected, because their light is primarily from main-sequence A stars, free of post-main-sequence complexity, and insensitive to heavy-element compositions. We confirm earlier results from Dressler et al. (1) There are four types of SFHs: SFH1, burst; SFH2, stochastic; SFH3, “contiguous” (three epochs), and SFH4, “continuous” (four to six epochs). (2) Starbursts—both single and multiple—are predominant (∼70%) in this critical period of cosmic history, although longer SFHs (0.5-1.0 Gyr) contribute one-third of the accumulated stellar mass. These 894 SFHs contribute 1011.14, 1011.09, 1011.00, and 1010.60 M for SFH1-4, respectively, adding up to ∼4 × 1011 M by z = 6 for this field. We suggest that the absence of rising SFHs could be explained as an intense dust-enshrouded phase of star formation lasting tens of Myr that preceded each of the SFHs we measure. We find no strong dependencies of SFH type with the large-scale environment; however, the discovery of a compact group of 30 galaxies, 11 of which had first star formation at z = 11-12, suggests that long SFHs could dominate in rare, dense environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number150
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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