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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Quasars Probing Quasars: The Circumgalactic Medium Surrounding z ~ 2 Quasars

  • Author(s): Lau, Marie Wingyee
  • Advisor(s): Prochaska, J. Xavier
  • et al.

Models of galaxy formation make the most direct predictions on gas related processes. Specifically, a picture on how gas flows through dark matter halos and onto galaxies to fuel star formation. A major prediction is that massive halos, including those hosting the progenitors of massive elliptical galaxies, exhibit a higher fraction of hot gas with T ~ 10^7 K. Another prediction is that some mechanism must be invoked to quench the supply of cool gas in massive systems. Under the current galaxy formation paradigm, every massive galaxy has undergone a quasar phase, making high-redshift quasars the progenitors of inactive supermassive black holes found in the center of nearly all galaxies. Moreover, quasars clustering implies M_halo = 10^12.5 M_sun, making quasar-host galaxies the progenitors of present day, massive, red and dead galaxies.

The Quasars Probing Quasars survey is well-suited to examine gas related processes in the context of massive galaxy formation, as well as quasar feedback. To date the survey has selected 700 closely projected quasar pairs. To study the circumgalactic medium, a sub-sample of pairs with projected separation within 300 kpc at the foreground quasar’s redshift are selected. From the first to seventh paper in the Quasars Probing Quasars series, the statistical results had been limited to covering fractions, equivalent widths, and without precise redshift measurements of the foreground quasars. Signatures of quasar feedback in the cool circumgalactic medium had not been identified. Hence, a sub-sample of 14 pairs with echellette spectra are selected for more detailed analysis. It is found that the low and high ions roughly trace each other in velocity structure. The HI and low ion surface densities decline with projected distance. HI absorption is strong even beyond the virial radius. Unresolved Ly-alpha emission in one case and NV detection in another case together imply that a fraction of transverse sightlines are illuminated. The ionization parameter U positively correlates with impact parameter, which implies the foreground quasar does not dominate the radiation field.

The circumgalactic medium is significantly enriched even beyond the virial radius, and has median [M/H] = -0.6. O/Fe is supersolar. No evolution in the total H column is found up to projected distance of 200 kpc, within which the median N_H = 10^20.5 cm^-2. Within the virial radius, the mass of the cool CGM is estimated at M_CGM = 1.5*10^11 M_sun. In two cases, detection of CII* implies electron density n_e > 10 cm^-3. Motivated by the preliminary kinematic results from this high-resolution sample, kinematic analysis of 148 pairs with precise foreground quasar redshifts is performed. The background spectra of this sample are of low and high resolution. The mean absorptions in metals exhibit velocity widths sigma_v = 300 km s^-1 , however the large widths do not require outflows. The mean absorptions have centroids redshifted from the systemic redshift by +200 km s^-1. The asymmetry may be explained if the quasars are anisotropic or intermittent, and the gas is not flowing onto the galaxy.

Finally, several observational and theoretical lines of future inquiry using multiwavelength data are presented.

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