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An Analysis of Astrophysics and Fundamental Physics from the Lyman-alpha Forest /


The Lyman-alpha forest, made up of the cosmologically redshifted hydrogen Lyman-alpha absorption lines in the spectra of distant quasars, is a sensitive probe of cosmology and astrophysics. The shape and distribution of the Lyman-alpha absorption lines is deter- mined by the column densities, peculiar velocities, redshifts, turbulent velocities, temperatures, and the distribution of systems of neutral hydrogen in the space between galaxies known as the intergalactic medium. The Lyman- alpha forest is sensitive to the total cosmological matter power spectrum at the smallest available scales. It provides a long lever arm for constraints on the shape of the matter power spectrum when used in conjunction with measurements at large scales, such as the cosmic microwave background. It also has the potential to be used to detect the small scale matter power suppression caused by the free streaming of fundamental particles including known active light neutrinos or potential warm dark matter candidates. Focusing on the line widths, optical depth, and the power spectrum of the flux of the Lyman-alpha forest, we find that previously published observations do not match the outputs of fully hydrodynamic cosmological computer simulations. We present a new measurement of the power spectrum of the flux of the Lyman-alpha forest, using 91 quasar spectra taken with the Keck HIRES spectrograph. This is the largest high resolution data set to date by a factor of about 3. The high resolution of our data sample gives fully resolved absorption lines. Compared to the low resolution data set from SDSS, the HIRES data allows for more accurate subtraction of metal line contamination, as well as a measurement of the flux power at the smallest scales. Finally, we run a suite of 44 new computer simulations, varying cosmological and astrophysical parameters in an attempt to find a model that matches our observational data. We find that no standard cosmological or astrophysical parameters provide an acceptable match. This calls into question previous constraints on cosmological parameters made from Lyman- alpha forest data sets

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