The size and nature of lyman-α forest clouds probed by QSO pairs and groups

Yihu Fang, Robert C. Duncan, Arlin P.S. Crotts, Jill Bechtold

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54 Scopus citations


Closely separated QSO pairs and groups make it possible to probe the size, geometry, and spatial clustering of Lyα forest clouds. Recent spectroscopic observations of Q1343+2640A/B give evidence that the transverse sizes of Lyα clouds are very large at redshifts ≈2 (as reported by Bechtold et al. in 1994). In this paper, we describe a robust Bayesian statistical method for determining cloud sizes in spherical and in thin disk geometries, apply this method to the available data, and discuss implications of our results for models of Lyα clouds. Under the assumption of a population of uniform-sized and unclustered Lyα clouds, the data from Q1343+2640A/B give a 99% confidence lower and upper bounds 61 < R ω 533 h-1 kpc on the radius of spherical clouds at z ≈ 1.8, with a median value of 149 h-1 kpc [(Ω0, Λ0) = (1, 0), and h ≡ H0/100 km s-1 Mpc-1]. The baryonic mass of such large clouds, if they are roughly homogeneous and quasi-spherical, is comparable to the baryonic mass of dwarf irregular galaxies. Their cosmic overdensity is close to the turnaround density but generally below the virialization density, which suggests a population of gravitationally bound but unvirialized protogalactic objects at z ≈ 2. The comoving volume density of these clouds is similar to that of the faint blue galaxies (FBGs) at the limiting magnitude B ≈ 26-27, if these FBGs are distributed approximately over the range of redshift from 0.8 to 2. The timescale for dynamical collapse of overdensities like these clouds is also comparable to the cosmic time difference between z ≈ 2 and z ≈ 1. Both populations of objects show similar weak clustering in space. All this evidence suggests a possible identification of Lyα clouds as the collapsing progenitors of the FBGs at z ∼ 1. We also investigate the other closely separated QSO pairs with published high-quality spectra: Q0307-1931/0307-1932, Q0107-0232/0107-0235, and the triplet of Q1623+268. Imposing a uniform W0 ≥ 0.4 Å counting threshold on all the line lists, we find a trend of larger inferred cloud radius with larger proper separation of QSO pairs, significant at the 3.4 σ level. This indicates that the idealization of unclustered, uniform-sized spherical clouds does not accurately describe the Lyα cloud population. Present data are insufficient to resolve with confidence whether this effect is due to clustering, filamentary shape, or nonuniform cloud size. There is a suggestion, however, that at low redshifts a residual population of larger clouds remains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-88
Number of pages12
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 PART I
StatePublished - 1996


  • Cosmology: observations
  • Galaxies: clusters: general
  • Intergalactic medium
  • Quasars: absorption lines

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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