Are cold flows detectable with metal absorption lines?

Taysun Kimm, Adrianne Slyz, Julien Devriendt, Christophe Pichon

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43 Citations (Scopus)


Cosmological simulations have shown that dark matter haloes are connected to each other by large-scale filamentary structures. Cold gas flowing within this 'cosmic web' is believed to be an important source of fuel for star formation at high redshift. However, the presence of such filamentary gas has never been observationally confirmed despite the fact that its covering fraction within massive haloes at high redshift is predicted to be significant (~25 per cent). In this Letter, we investigate in detail whether such cold gas is detectable using low-ionization metal absorption lines, such as C II γ1334, as this technique has a proven observational record for detecting gaseous structures. Using a large statistical sample of galaxies from the MARENOSTRUM N-body+ adaptive mesh refinement (AMR) cosmological simulation, we find that the typical covering fraction of the dense, cold gas in 1012 M⊙ haloes at z ~ 2.5 is lower than expected (~5 per cent). In addition, the absorption signal by the interstellar medium of the galaxy itself turns out to be so deep and so broad in velocity space that it completely drowns that of the filamentary gas. A detectable signal might be obtained from a cold filament exactly aligned with the line of sight, but this configuration is so unlikely that it would require surveying an overwhelmingly large number of candidate galaxies to tease it out. Finally, the predicted metallicity of the cold gas in filaments is extremely low (=10-3 Z⊙). If this result persists when higher resolution runs are performed, it would significantly increase the difficulty of detecting filamentary gas inflows using metal lines. However, even if we assume that filaments are enriched to Z⊙, the absorption signal that we compute is still weak. We are therefore led to conclude that it is extremely difficult to observationally prove or disprove the presence of cold filaments as the favourite accretion mode of galaxies using low-ionization metal absorption lines. The Lya emission route looks more promising but due to the resonant nature of the line, radiative transfer simulations are required to fully characterize the observed signal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)L51-L55
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011 May

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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