The intergalactic medium over the last 10 billion years - I. Lyα absorption and physical conditions

Romeel Davé*, Benjamin D. Oppenheimer, Neal Katz, Juna A. Kollmeier, David H. Weinberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The intergalactic medium (IGM) is the dominant reservoir of baryons at all cosmic epochs. In this paper, we investigate the evolution of the IGM from z= 2 → 0 in (48 h-1 Mpc)3, 110 million particle cosmological hydrodynamic simulations using three prescriptions for galactic outflows. We focus on the evolution of IGM physical properties, and how such properties are traced by Lyα absorption as detectable using Hubble's Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS). Our results broadly confirm the canonical picture that most Lyα absorbers arise from highly ionized gas tracing filamentary large-scale structure. Growth of structure causes gas to move from the diffuse photoionized IGM into other cosmic phases, namely stars, cold and hot gas within galaxy haloes, and the unbound and shock-heated warm-hot intergalactic medium (WHIM). By today, baryons are comparably divided between bound phases (35 per cent in our favoured outflow model), the diffuse IGM (41 per cent) and the WHIM (24 per cent). Here we (re)define the WHIM as gas with overdensities lower than that in haloes (today) and temperatures T > 105 K, to more closely align it with the 'missing baryons' that are not easily detectable in emission or Lyα absorption. Strong galactic outflows can have a noticeable impact on the temperature of the IGM, though with our favoured momentum-driven wind scalings they do not. When we (mildly) tune our assumed photoionizing background to match the observed evolution of the Lyα mean flux decrement, we obtain line count evolution statistics that broadly agree with available (pre-COS) observations. We predict a column density distribution slope of for our favoured wind model, in agreement with recent observational estimates, and it becomes shallower with redshift. Winds have a mostly minimal impact, but they do result in a shallower column density slope and more strong lines. With improved statistics, the frequency of strong lines can be a valuable diagnostic of outflows, and the momentum-driven wind model matches existing data significantly better than the two alternatives we consider. The relationship between column density and physical density broadens mildly from z= 2 → 0, and evolves as for diffuse absorbers, consistent with previous studies. Linewidth distributions are quite sensitive to spectral resolution; COS should yield significantly broader lines than higher resolution data. Thermal contributions to linewidths are typically subdominant, so linewidths only loosely reflect the temperature of the absorbing gas. This will hamper attempts to quantify the WHIM using broad Lyα absorbers, though it may still be possible to do so statistically. Together, COS data and simulations such as these will provide key insights into the physical conditions of the dominant reservoir of baryons over the majority of cosmic time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2051-2070
Number of pages20
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2010

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Galaxies: formation
  • Intergalactic medium
  • Large-scale structure of Universe
  • Methods: numerical
  • Quasars: absorption lines
  • Ultraviolet: general


Dive into the research topics of 'The intergalactic medium over the last 10 billion years - I. Lyα absorption and physical conditions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this