The Origin and History of Galaxies

Galaxy Formation

The SPHEREx observing strategy naturally generates a wide+deep map at each ecliptic pole (the southern map will be shifted to avoid the LMC). Both maps will enable unique measurements of spatial fluctuations in the extragalactic background light (EBL) which will lead to new insights into the origin and history of galaxy formation. Specifically, SPHEREx will probe signals from the intra-halo light (IHL) and from the epoch of reionization (EOR) to minimum levels in the EBL.


Fig. 1

Fig. 1: Amplitude of large-scale EBL fluctuations measured by CIBER, Spitzer, and AKARI, after removing the contribution from known galaxy populations. The purple solid line shows the expected IHL and the red envelope the EOR signal with modeling uncertainties the bottom of the EOR range is the minimum signal that must be present given the existing z>7 Lyman-break galaxy luminosity functions (Bouwens et al. 2013). The top of the EOR range allows for fainter galaxies below the detection thresholds of deep HST surveys. We show the MEV and CBE instrumental performance as the variance between multipoles l=500 and 2000 in 8 bins between 0.75 and 4.0 µm by the blue and red lines respectively. Note Dl=l(l+1)Cl/(2π).


Surveys which focus only on detection of individual galaxies discard important information available in the diffuse light from faint emission sources, such as intra-halo light (IHL) and dwarf galaxies. Fluctuations in EBL trace these faint sources. The amplitude of the linear clustering signal, proportional to the total photon emission, exceeds that expected from large-scale clustering of known galaxy populations, suggesting EBL is a fruitful signal for probing yet-undiscovered features of the origin and history of galaxy formation.

Intensity Mapping Illustration

Fig. 2

Fig. 2: A large-scale mapping measurement like SPHEREx traces the total emission from diffuse components as well as the emission from individual galaxies. The left panel shows a numerical simulation of galaxies superposed with a diffuse emission component, such as IHL and early dwarf galaxies, that follows the structure of dark matter. A galaxy survey (middle) recovers the galaxies but misses the diffuse light component. A large-scale mapping measurement (right), traces the total emission from the diffuse component as well as the individual galaxies due to their clustering.


Diffuse IHL emissions at redshifts of z < 1 arise from stars disassociated from their parent galaxies. During a collision of galaxies, some stars are stripped from their parent galaxies by dynamical friction and form extended stellar halos, some extending out to 300 kpc (Tal & van Dokkum 2011). The substantial IR fluctuations from the IHL are thought to be responsible for the corresponding IR fluctations in the EBL. SPHEREx's sensitive multi-band fluctuations will probe the history of starts producing the IHL.


The Epoch of Reionization (EOR) marks the end of the Universe's dark ages, in which the first collapsed objects produced energetic UV photons that reionized the surrounding hydrogen gas. Estimates of the UV luminosity function at z > 6 suggest the majority of UV intensity driving reionization was due to dwarf galaxies.

EOR fluctions in the EBL trace exactly these dwarf galaxies. By extrapolating the HST-observed luminosity funciton of z > 7 faint galaxies, one can put a lower bound on the EOR component of the EBL. SPHEREx has the sensitivity in multiple spectral bands to probe for the EOR component's distinctive spectral features using information in auto- and cross-correlations.