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Published October 17, 2013 | Submitted
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Submm Recombination Lines in Dust-Obscured Starbursts and AGN


We examine the use of submm recombination lines of H, He and He+ to probe the extreme ultraviolet (EUV) luminosity of starbursts (SB) and AGN. We find that the submm recombination lines of H, He and He+ are in fact extremely reliable and quantitative probes of the EUV continuum at 13.6 eV to above 54.6 eV. At submm wavelengths, the recombination lines originate from low energy levels (n = 20 - 50). The maser amplification, which poses significant problems for quantitative interpretation of the higher n, radio frequency recombination lines, is insignificant. Lastly, at submm wavelengths the dust extinction is minimal. The submm line luminosities are therefore directly proportional to the emission measures (EM_(ION) = n_e x n_(ion) x volume) of their ionized regions. We also find that the expected line fluxes are detectable with ALMA and can be imaged at ~0.1" resolution in low redshift ULIRGs. Imaging of the HI lines will provide accurate spatial and kinematic mapping of the star formation distribution in low-z IR-luminous galaxies. And the relative fluxes of the HI and HeII recombination lines will strongly constrain the relative contributions of starbursts and AGN to the luminosity. The HI lines should also provide an avenue to constraining the submm dust extinction curve.

Additional Information

We thank Chris Hirata for discussions during this work, Zara Scoville for proof reading the manuscript and Jin Koda and Min Yun for comments. We thank the Aspen Center for Physics and the NSF Grant #1066293 for hospitality during the writing of this paper. We also thank the referee for suggesting we include a discussion of radiative line excitation (§2.5).

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