The discovery of a galaxy-wide superwind from a young massive galaxy at redshift z ≈ 3

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High-velocity galactic outflows, driven by intense bursts of star formation and black hole accretion, are processes invoked by current theories of galaxy formation1 to terminate star formation in the most massive galaxies and to deposit heavy elements in the intergalactic medium. From existing observational evidence2,3 (for high-redshift galaxies) it is unclear whether such outflows are localized to regions of intense star formation just a few kiloparsecs in extent, or whether they instead have a significant impact on the entire galaxy and its surroundings. Here we present two-dimensional spectroscopy of a star-forming galaxy4 at redshift z = 3.09 (seen 11.5 gigayears ago, when the Universe was 20 per cent of its current age): its spatially extended Lyα line emission appears to be absorbed by H i in a foreground screen covering the entire galaxy, with a lateral extent of at least 100 kpc and remarkable velocity coherence. This screen was ejected from the galaxy during a starburst several 108 years earlier and has subsequently swept up gas from the surrounding intergalactic medium and cooled. This demonstrates the galaxy-wide impact of high-redshift superwinds.

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Figure 1: Part of the data cube obtained from integral field spectroscopy of the z = 3.09 galaxy LAB-2, showing the Lyα emission line.
Figure 2: A reconstructed image of the z = 3.09 galaxy LAB-2 in the Lyα emission line.
Figure 3: Lyα emission line profiles across the galaxy LAB-2 at z = 3.09. A profile is shown for each region labelled in Fig. 2.
Figure 4: An illustration of our model for the Lyα emission and absorption in the redshift z = 3.09 galaxy LAB-2.


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We thank the SAURON team for supporting this programme, together with E. Emsellem, E. Jourdeuil and ING staff for support on La Palma. The construction of SAURON was financed by contributions from ASTRON/NWO, the Institut des Sciences de l'Univers, the Université Claude Bernard Lyon-I, the universities of Durham and Leiden, The British Council, PPARC, and NOVA. R.J.W. and R.G.B. acknowledge support from PPARC, and R.G.B. also thanks the Leverhulme Foundation. J.G. is supported by the Euro3D research training network.

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Correspondence to R. J. Wilman.

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Wilman, R., Gerssen, J., Bower, R. et al. The discovery of a galaxy-wide superwind from a young massive galaxy at redshift z ≈ 3. Nature 436, 227–229 (2005) doi:10.1038/nature03718

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