Bayesian Redshift Classification of Emission-line Galaxies with Photometric Equivalent Widths

Andrew S. Leung, Viviana Acquaviva, Eric Gawiser, Robin Ciardullo, Eiichiro Komatsu, A. I. Malz, Gregory R. Zeimann, Joanna S. Bridge, Niv Drory, John J. Feldmeier, Steven L. Finkelstein, Karl Gebhardt, Caryl Gronwall, Alex Hagen, Gary J. Hill, Donald P. Schneider

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25 Scopus citations


We present a Bayesian approach to the redshift classification of emission-line galaxies when only a single emission line is detected spectroscopically. We consider the case of surveys for high-redshift Lyα-emitting galaxies (LAEs), which have traditionally been classified via an inferred rest-frame equivalent width (EW; WLyα) greater than 20 Å. Our Bayesian method relies on known prior probabilities in measured emission-line luminosity functions and EW distributions for the galaxy populations, and returns the probability that an object in question is an LAE given the characteristics observed. This approach will be directly relevant for the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment (HETDEX), which seeks to classify ∼106 emission-line galaxies into LAEs and low-redshift emitters. For a simulated HETDEX catalog with realistic measurement noise, our Bayesian method recovers 86% of LAEs missed by the traditional WLyα > 20 Å cutoff over 2 < z < 3, outperforming the EW cut in both contamination and incompleteness. This is due to the method's ability to trade off between the two types of binary classification error by adjusting the stringency of the probability requirement for classifying an observed object as an LAE. In our simulations of HETDEX, this method reduces the uncertainty in cosmological distance measurements by 14% with respect to the EW cut, equivalent to recovering 29% more cosmological information. Rather than using binary object labels, this method enables the use of classification probabilities in large-scale structure analyses. It can be applied to narrowband emission-line surveys as well as upcoming large spectroscopic surveys including Euclid and WFIRST.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number130
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 10 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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