Lyman-alpha line and continuum radiative transfer in a clumpy interstellar medium
Aims: We aim to study the effects of an inhomogeneous interstellar medium (ISM) on the strength and the shape of the Lyman alpha (Lya) line in starburst galaxies. Methods: Using our 3D Monte Carlo Lya radiation transfer code, we study the radiative transfer of Lya, UV and optical continuum photons in homogeneous and clumpy shells of neutral hydrogen and dust surrounding a central source. Our simulations predict the Lya and continuum escape fraction, the Lya equivalent width EW(Lya), the Lya line profile and their dependence on the gas geometry and the main input physical parameters. Results: The ISM clumpiness is found to have a strong impact on the Lya line radiative transfer, entailing a strong dependence of the emergent features of the Lya line (escape fraction, EW(Lya)) on the ISM morphology. Although a clumpy and dusty ISM appears more transparent to radiation (both line and continuum) compared to an equivalent homogeneous ISM of equal dust optical depth, we find that the Lya photons are, in general, still more attenuated than UV continuum radiation. As a consequence, the observed Lya equivalent width (EWobs(Lya)) is lower than the intrinsic one (EWint(Lya)) for nearly all clumpy ISM configurations considered. There are, however, special conditions under which Lya photons escape more easily than the continuum, resulting in an enhanced EWobs(Lya). The requirement for this to happen is that the ISM is almost static (galactic outflows < 200 km/s), extremely clumpy (with density contrasts >10^7 in HI between clumps and the interclump medium), and very dusty (E(B-V) > 0.30). When these conditions are fulfilled the emergent Lya line profile shows no velocity shift and little asymmetry. Given the asymmetry and velocity shifts generally observed in starburst galaxies with Lya emission, we conclude that clumping is unlikely to significantly enhance their relative Lya/UV transmission.