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Observing the First Galaxies

Part of the Astrophysics and Space Science Library book series (ASSL,volume 396)


I endevour to provide a thorough overview of our current knowledge of galaxies and their evolution during the first billion years of cosmic time, corresponding to redshifts z > 5. After first summarizing progress with the seven different techniques which have been used to date in the discovery of objects at z > 5, I focus thereafter on the two selection methods which have yielded substantial samples of galaxies at early times, namely Lyman-break and Lyman-α selection. I discuss a decade of progress in galaxy sample selection at \(z \simeq 5 - 8\), including issues of completeness and contamination, and address some of the confusion which has been created by erroneous reports of extreme-redshift objects. Next I provide an overview of our current knowledge of the evolving ultraviolet continuum and Lyman-α galaxy luminosity functions at \(z \simeq 5 - 8\), and discuss what can be learned from exploring the relationship between the Lyman-break and Lyman-α selected populations. I then summarize what is known about the physical properties of these galaxies in the young universe, before considering the wider implications of this work for the cosmic history of star formation, and for the reionization of the universe. I conclude with a brief summary of the exciting prospects for further progress in this field in the next 5–10 years. Throughout, key concepts such as selection techniques and luminosity functions are explained assuming essentially no prior knowledge. The intention is that this chapter can be used as an introduction to the observational study of high-redshift galaxies, as well as providing a review of the latest results in this fast-moving research field up to the end of 2011.


  • High Redshift
  • Luminosity Function
  • James Webb Space Telescope
  • Very Large Telescope
  • Schechter Function

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James Dunlop gratefully acknowledges the support of the Royal Society through a Wolfson Research Merit award and the support of the European Research Council via the award of an Advanced Grant. He also wishes to acknowledge the many substantial contributions of his collaborators in the study of high-redshift galaxies, and the (mostly) good-natured and productive rivalry engendered by the various competing groups working at this exciting research frontier.

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Correspondence to James S. Dunlop .

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© 2013 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg

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Dunlop, J.S. (2013). Observing the First Galaxies. In: Wiklind, T., Mobasher, B., Bromm, V. (eds) The First Galaxies. Astrophysics and Space Science Library, vol 396. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

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