A population of weak metal-line absorbers surrounding the milky way

Philipp Richter, Jane C. Charlton, Alessio P.M. Fangano, Nadya Ben Bekhti, Joseph R. Masiero

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46 Scopus citations


We report on the detection of a population of weak metal-line absorbers in the halo or nearby intergalactic environment of the Milky Way. Using high-resolution ultraviolet absorption-line spectra of bright quasars (QSO) obtained with the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS), along six sight lines we have observed unsaturated, narrow absorption in Oi and Si ii, together with mildly saturated C ii absorption at high radial velocities (|vLSR| = 100-320kms-1). ThemeasuredOi column densities lie in the rangeN(O i) < 2 × 1014 cm-2 implying that these structures represent Lyman limit Systems and sub-Lyman limit SystemwithHi column densities between 1016 and 3×1018 cm-2, thus below the detection limits of current 21 cm all-sky surveys of high-velocity clouds (HVCs). The absorbers apparently are not directly associated with any of the large high column density HVC complexes, but rather represent isolated, partly neutral gas clumps embedded in a more tenuous, ionized gaseous medium situated in the halo or nearby intergalactic environment of the Galaxy. Photoionization modeling of the observed low ion ratios suggests typical hydrogen volume densities of nH > 0.02 cm-3 and characteristic thicknesses of a several parsec down to subparsec scales. For three absorbers, metallicities are constrained in the range of 0.1-1.0 solar, implying that these gaseous structures may have multiple origins inside and outside the Milky Way. Using supplementary optical absorption-line data, we find for two other absorbers Ca ii/O i column-density ratios that correspond to solar Ca/O abundance ratios. This finding indicates that these clouds do not contain significant amounts of dust. This population of low column density gas clumps in the circumgalactic environment of theMilky Way is indicative of the various processes that contribute to the circulation of neutral gas in the extended halos of spiral galaxies. These processes include the accretion of gas from the intergalactic medium and satellite galaxies, galactic fountains, and outflows. We speculate that this absorber population represents the local analog of weak Mgii systems that are commonly observed in the circumgalactic environment of low-And high-redshift galaxies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1631-1647
Number of pages17
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 20 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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