Friday, July 26, 2013

1307.6588 (Neil H. M. Crighton et al.)

Metal-Poor, Cool Gas in the Circumgalactic Medium of a z = 2.4 Star-Forming Galaxy: Direct Evidence for Cold Accretion?    [PDF]

Neil H. M. Crighton, Joseph F. Hennawi, J. Xavier Prochaska
In our current galaxy formation paradigm, high-redshift galaxies are predominantly fuelled by accretion of cool, metal-poor gas from the intergalactic medium. Hydrodynamical simulations predict that this material should be observable in absorption against background sightlines within a galaxy's virial radius, as optically thick Lyman-limit systems (LLSs) with low metallicities. Here we report the discovery of exactly such a strong metal-poor absorber at an impact parameter R_perp = 58 kpc from a star-forming galaxy at z = 2.44. Besides strong neutral hydrogen [N(HI) = 10^(19.50 +/- 0.16) cm^-2] we detect neutral deuterium and oxygen, allowing a precise measurement of the metallicity: log10(Z / Zsolar) = -2.0 +/- 0.17, or (7-15) x 10^-3 solar. Furthermore, the narrow deuterium linewidth requires a cool temperature < 20,000 K. Given the striking similarities between this system and the predictions of simulations, we argue that it represents the direct detection of a high redshift cold-accretion stream. The low-metallicity gas cloud is a single component of an absorption system exhibiting a complex velocity, ionization, and enrichment structure. Two other components have metallicities > 0.1 solar, ten times larger than the metal-poor component. We conclude that the photoionized circumgalactic medium (CGM) of this galaxy is highly inhomogeneous: the majority of the gas is in a cool, metal-poor and predominantly neutral phase, but the majority of the metals are in a highly-ionized phase exhibiting weak neutral hydrogen absorption but strong metal absorption. If such inhomogeneity is common, then high-resolution spectra and detailed ionization modelling are critical to accurately appraise the distribution of metals in the high-redshift CGM.
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