EDP Sciences
Free Access
Volume 482, Number 3, May II 2008
Page(s) L39 - L42
Section Letters
DOI https://doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:200809727
Published online 26 March 2008

A&A 482, L39-L42 (2008)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:200809727


First detection of CO in a high-redshift damped Lyman-$\alpha$ system

R. Srianand1, P. Noterdaeme2, 3, C. Ledoux2, and P. Petitjean3

1  IUCAA, Post Bag 4, Ganeshkhind, Pune 411 007, India
    e-mail: anand@iucaa.ernet.in
2  European Southern Observatory, Alonso de Córdova 3107, Casilla 19001, Vitacura, Santiago 19, Chile
3  UPMC Paris 06, Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris, UMR7095 CNRS, 98bis Boulevard Arago, 75014 Paris, France

(Received 6 March 2008 / Accepted 20 March 2008)

We present the first detection of carbon monoxide (CO) in a damped Lyman-$\alpha$ system (DLA) at $z_{\rm abs}$ = 2.41837 toward SDSS J143912.04+111740.5. We also detected H2 and HD molecules. The measured total column densities (in log units) of H I, H2, and CO are 20.10$\pm$0.10, 19.38$\pm$0.10, and 13.89$\pm$0.02, respectively. The molecular fraction, f = 2N(H2)/(N(H I)+2N(H2)) = $0.27^{\rm +0.10}_{-0.08}$, is the highest among all known DLAs. The abundances relative to solar of S, Zn, Si, and Fe are -0.03$\pm$0.12, +0.16$\pm$0.11, -0.86$\pm$0.11, and -1.32$\pm$0.11, respectively, indicating a high metal enrichment and a depletion pattern onto dust-grains similar to the cold ISM of our Galaxy. The measured N(CO)/N(H2) = 3$\times$10-6 is much less than the conventional CO/H2 ratio used to convert the CO emission into gaseous mass but is consistent with what is measured along translucent sightlines in the Galaxy. The CO rotational excitation temperatures are higher than those measured in our Galactic ISM for similar kinetic temperature and density. Using the C I fine structure absorption lines, we show that this is a consequence of the excitation being dominated by radiative pumping by the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR). From the CO excitation temperatures, we derive $T_{\rm CMBR}$ = 9.15$\pm$0.72 K, while 9.315$\pm$0.007 K is expected from the hot big-bang theory. This is the most precise high-redshift measurement of $T_{\rm CMBR}$ and the first confirmation of the theory using molecular transitions at high redshift.

Key words: galaxies: abundances -- galaxies: quasars: absorption lines

© ESO 2008