Quantitative Constraints on the Reionization History from the IGM Damping Wing Signature in Two Quasars at z > 7

Frederick B. Davies, Joseph F. Hennawi, Eduardo Bañados, Zarija Lukić, Roberto Decarli, Xiaohui Fan, Emanuele P. Farina, Chiara Mazzucchelli, Hans Walter Rix, Bram P. Venemans, Fabian Walter, Feige Wang, Jinyi Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

199 Scopus citations


During reionization, neutral hydrogen in the intergalactic medium (IGM) imprints a damping wing absorption feature on the spectrum of high-redshift quasars. A detection of this signature provides compelling evidence for a significantly neutral universe, and enables measurements of the hydrogen neutral fraction x H i(z) at that epoch. Obtaining reliable quantitative constraints from this technique, however, is challenging due to stochasticity induced by the patchy inside-out topology of reionization, degeneracies with quasar lifetime, and the unknown unabsorbed quasar spectrum close to rest-frame Lyα. We combine a large-volume semi-numerical simulation of reionization topology with 1D radiative transfer through high-resolution hydrodynamical simulations of the high-redshift universe to construct models of quasar transmission spectra during reionization. Our state-of-the-art approach captures the distribution of damping wing strengths in biased quasar halos that should have reionized earlier, as well as the erosion of neutral gas in the quasar environment caused by its own ionizing radiation. Combining this detailed model with our new technique for predicting the quasar continuum and its associated uncertainty, we introduce a Bayesian statistical method to jointly constrain the neutral fraction of the universe and the quasar lifetime from individual quasar spectra. We apply this methodology to the spectra of the two quasars with the highest redshifts known, ULAS J1120+0641 and ULAS J1342+0928, and measure volume-averaged neutral fractions {xH 1}(Z = 7.09) = 0.48+0.26 -0.26 and {xH 1}(Z = 7.54) = 0.60+0.20 -0.23(posterior medians and 68% credible intervals) when marginalized over quasar lifetimes of 103 ≤ t q ≤ 108 yr.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number142
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 10 2018


  • cosmology: observations
  • cosmology: theory
  • dark ages, reionization, first stars
  • intergalactic Medium
  • quasars: absorption lines

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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