Abstract:

This thesis focuses on the intrinsically strongest spectral signature of star-forming galaxies: the Lyman alpha recombination line of the hydrogen atom (hereafter Lya). Located at the wavelength of 1215.67 Å in the restframe far-ultraviolet spectra of star-forming galaxies, the Lya line proves to be a vital tracer and a powerful emission-line window to discover and to study the remote young star-forming galaxies of the early the Universe.

Although intrinsically very strong, the Lya line is also a resonant line. As a consequence, the transport of Lya photons inside the interstellar medium (ISM) of star-forming galaxies is very complex and depends on many ISM quantities (HI mass, dust content, HI gas kinematics and ISM clumpiness). All this process has serious effects on the emergent features of the Lya line (strength, equivalent width and line profile) that need to be understood for ensuring a proper interpretation of all very promising Lya-oriented studies in astrophysics and cosmology. This is precisely the aim of this thesis to go deeper into our understanding of the complex radiative transport experienced by the Lya line in star-forming galaxies.

In this work, we carry out both numerical and observational studies of Lya transport inside the ISM of galaxies.

In Paper I and II, we perform detailed numerical studies that examine the effects of a clumpy ISM on the strength and the shape of the Lya line. Although poorly studied until now, the effects of a clumpy ISM on Lya have been routinely invoked to explain the origin of anomalously strong Lya line observed from high-redshift galaxies. Some analytical studies suggest indeed an higher transmission of Lya photons over UV continuum ones from clumpy ISMs, resulting in an enhanced Lya equivalent width EW(Lya). Our results show that although clumpiness facilitates the escape of Lya, it is highly unlikely that any real ISM should result in any enhancement of EW(Lya). Other possible causes are discussed in our papers, leading to the conclusion that the observed high EW(Lya) are more likely produced by cooling radiation or anisotropic escape of Lya radiation.

Both Paper III and IV are related to the LARS project. This is an ambitious observational program in which 14 nearby star-forming galaxies have been observed with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) with the aim to investigate how Lya is transported out of galaxies and what effects each ISM quantity produces on the Lya line. While Paper III examines the Lya properties and morphology of individual galaxies, Paper IV presents a detailed study of the surprising Lya emission line of Mrk1486 (the fifth galaxy of the sample).