Low-luminosity galaxies in the early universe have observed sizes similar to star cluster complexes

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R.J. Bouwens, G.D. Illingworth, P.G. van Dokkum, B. Ribeiro, P.A. Oesch, M. Stefanon

We compare the sizes and luminosities of faint z=6-8 galaxies magnified by the Hubble Frontier Fields (HFF) clusters with star-forming regions, as well as more evolved objects, in the nearby universe. Our high-redshift comparison sample includes 333 z=6-8 galaxies, for which size measurements were made as part of a companion study where lensing magnifications were estimated from various public models. Accurate size measurements for these sources are complicated by the lens model uncertainties, but other results and arguments suggest that faint galaxies are small, as discussed in a companion study. The measured sizes for sources in our comparison sample range from <50 pc to ~500 pc. For many of the lowest luminosity sources, extremely small sizes are inferred, reaching individual sizes as small as 10-30 pc, with several sources in the 10-15 pc range with our conservative magnification limits. The sizes and luminosities are similar to those of single star cluster complexes like 30 Doradus in the lower-redshift universe and -- in a few cases -- super star clusters. The identification of these compact, faint star-forming sources in the z~6-8 universe also allows us to set upper limits on the proto-globular cluster LF at z~6. By comparisons of the counts and sizes with recent models, we rule out (with some caveats) proto-globular cluster formation scenarios favoring substantial (xi=10) post-formation mass loss and set useful upper limits on others. Our size results suggest we may be very close to discovering a bona-fide population of forming globular clusters at high redshift.


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