Large-scale outflows from z similar or equal to 0.7 starburst galaxies identified via ultrastrong Mg ii quasar absorption lines

Daniel B. Nestor, Benjamin D. Johnson, Vivienne Wild, Brice Menard, David A. Turnshek, Sandhya Rao, Max Pettini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Citations (Scopus)


Star formation driven outflows are a critically important phenomenon in theoretical treatments of galaxy evolution, despite the limited ability of observational studies to trace galactic winds across cosmological time-scales. It has been suggested that the strongest Mg ii absorption-line systems detected in the spectra of background quasars might arise in outflows from foreground galaxies. If confirmed, such 'ultrastrong' Mg ii (USMg ii) absorbers would represent a method to identify significant numbers of galactic winds over a huge baseline in cosmic time, in a manner independent of the luminous properties of the galaxy. To this end, we present the first detailed imaging and spectroscopic study of the fields of two USMg ii absorber systems culled from a statistical absorber catalogue, with the goal of understanding the physical processes leading to the large velocity spreads that define such systems.

Each field contains two bright emission-line galaxies at similar redshift (delta v less than or similar to 300 km s-1) to that of the absorption. Lower limits on their instantaneous star formation rates (SFRs) from the observed [O ii] and H beta line fluxes, and stellar masses from spectral template fitting indicate specific SFRs among the highest for their masses at these redshifts. Additionally, their 4000-A break and Balmer absorption strengths imply they have undergone recent (similar to 0.01-1 Gyr) starbursts. The concomitant presence of two rare phenomena - starbursts and USMg ii absorbers - strongly implies a causal connection. We consider these data and USMg ii absorbers in general in the context of various popular models, and conclude that galactic outflows are generally necessary to account for the velocity extent of the absorption. We favour starburst-driven outflows over tidally stripped gas from a major interaction, which triggered the starburst as the energy source for the majority of systems. Finally, we discuss the implications of these results and speculate on the overall contribution of such systems to the global SFR density at z similar or equal to 0.7.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1559-1572
Number of pages14
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011


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