2022 journal article

Resolving the H i in damped Lyman α systems that power star formation

Nature, 5.

By: R. Bordoloi, J. O’Meara, K. Sharon, J. Rigby, J. Cooke, A. Shaban, M. Matuszewski, L. Rizzi ...

Source: ORCID
Added: May 20, 2022

Reservoirs of dense atomic gas (primarily hydrogen), contain approximately 90 percent of the neutral gas at a redshift of 3, and contribute to 2-3 percent of the total baryons in the Universe. These damped Lyman-${\alpha}$ systems (so called because they absorb Lyman-${\alpha}$ photons from within and from background sources) have been studied for decades, but only through absorption lines present in the spectra of background quasars and gamma-ray bursts. Such pencil beams do not constrain the physical extent of the systems. Here, we report integral-field spectroscopy of a bright, gravitationally lensed galaxy at a redshift of 2.7 with two foreground damped Lyman-${\alpha}$ systems. These systems are $>$ 238 $kpc^2$ in extent, with column densities of neutral hydrogen varying by more than an order of magnitude on $<$ 3 kpc-scales. The mean column densities are $10^{20.46}$ - $10^{20.84} cm^{-2}$ and the total masses are $> 5.5 \times 10^{8}$ - $1.4 \times 10^{9} M_{\odot}$, showing that they contain the necessary fuel for the next generation of star formation, consistent with relatively massive, low-luminosity primeval galaxies at redshifts $>$ 2.