Extremely metal-poor galaxies with HST/COS: Laboratories for models of low-metallicity massive stars and high-redshift galaxies

Peter Senchyna, Daniel P. Stark, Jacopo Chevallard, Stéphane Charlot, Tucker Jones, Alba Vidal-García

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Ultraviolet (UV) observations of local star-forming galaxies have begun to establish an empirical baseline for interpreting the rest-UV spectra of reionization-era galaxies. However, existing high-ionization emission line measurements at z > 6 (WC IV,0 ≳ 20 Å) are uniformly stronger than observed locally (WC IV,0 ≲ 2 Å), likely due to the relatively high metallicities (Z/Z > 0.1) typically probed by UV surveys of nearby galaxies. We present new HST/COS spectra of six nearby (z < 0.01) extremely metal-poor galaxies (XMPs, Z/Z ≲ 0.1) targeted to address this limitation and provide constraints on the highly uncertain ionizing spectra powered by low-metallicity massive stars. Our data reveal a range of spectral features, including one of the most prominent nebular C IV doublets yet observed in local star-forming systems and strong He II emission. Using all published UV observations of local XMPs to date, we find that nebular C IV emission is ubiquitous in very high specific star formation rate systems at low metallicity, but still find equivalent widths smaller than those measured in individual lensed systems at z > 6. Our moderate-resolution HST/COS data allow us to conduct an analysis of the stellar winds in a local nebular C IV emitter, which suggests that some of the tension with z > 6 data may be due to existing local samples not yet probing sufficiently high α/Fe abundance ratios. Our results indicate that C IV emission can play a crucial role in the JWST and ELT era by acting as an accessible signpost of very low metallicity (Z/Z < 0.1) massive stars in assembling reionization-era systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3492-3506
Number of pages15
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 21 2019


  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: stellar content
  • Stars: massive
  • Ultraviolet: galaxies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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