An Ultraviolet Survey of Low-Redshift Partial Lyman-Limit Systems with the HST Cosmic Origins Spectrograph [GA]

We present an ultraviolet spectroscopic survey of strong H I absorbers in the intergalactic medium, probing their evolution over the last 6-7 Gyr at redshifts $0.24 \leq z \leq 0.84$. We measure column densities $N_{\rm HI} \,( {\rm cm}^{-2})$ from the pattern of Lyman-series absorption lines and flux decrement at the Lyman limit (LL) when available. We analyzed 220 H I absorbers in ultraviolet spectra of 102 active galactic nuclei (AGN) taken by the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph aboard the Hubble Space Telescope with G130M/G160M gratings (1134-1795 \AA). For 158 absorbers with $\log N_{\rm HI} \geq 15$, the mean frequency is $d {\cal N}/dz = 4.95 \pm 0.39$ over pathlength $\Delta z = 31.94$ ($0.24 \leq z \leq 0.84)$. We identify 8 Lyman Limit Systems (LLS, $\log N_{\rm HI} \geq 17.2$) and 54 partial systems (pLLS) with $16.0 \leq \log N_{\rm HI} < 17.2$. Toward 159 AGN between $0.01 < z_{\rm abs} < 0.84$ with $\Delta z \approx 48$, we find four damped Ly$\alpha$ absorbers (DLA) with $(d {\cal N}/dz){\rm DLA} = 0.083^{+0.066}{-0.040}$ at $\langle z \rangle = 0.18$. The mean LLS frequency between $z = 0.24-0.48$ is $(d {\cal N}/dz){\rm LLS} = 0.36^{+0.20}{-0.13}$ fitted to $N(z) = (0.25^{+0.13}{-0.09})(1+z)^{1.14}$. For 54 pLLS we find $(d {\cal N}/dz){\rm pLLS} = 1.69\pm0.23$ at $\langle z \rangle = 0.39$, a frequency consistent with gaseous halo sizes $R \approx 100 h^{-1}~{\rm kpc}$ for ($0.3-3L^*$) galaxies. A maximum-likelihood analysis yields a distribution $f(N,z) = C_0 N^{-\beta} (1+z)^{\gamma}$ with $\beta = 1.48 \pm 0.05$ and $\gamma = 1.14^{+0.88}_{-0.89}$ for $15 \leq \log N_{\rm HI} \leq 17.5$. The far-UV opacity gradient is $d \tau_{\rm eff} / dz \approx (0.444)(1+z)^{1.14}$ over the range $15 \leq \log N_{\rm HI} \leq 17$, implying mean LyC optical depth $\tau_{\rm eff} \approx 0.3-0.5$ toward sources at $z = 1-2$.

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J. Shull, C. Danforth, E. Tilton, et. al.
Wed, 11 Oct 17

Comments: Accepted for publication (Astrophys J), 34 pages, 13 figures, 2 appendices