EDP Sciences
Free Access
Volume 379, Number 2, November IV 2001
Page(s) 393 - 406
Section Extragalactic astronomy
DOI https://doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:20011281
Published online 15 November 2001

A&A 379, 393-406 (2001)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20011281

The CORALS survey I: New estimates of the number density and gas content of damped Lyman alpha systems free from dust bias

S. L. Ellison1, L. Yan2, I. M. Hook3, M. Pettini4, J. V. Wall5 and P. Shaver6

1  European Southern Observatory, Casilla 19001, Santiago 19, Chile
2  SIRTF Science Center, Caltech, California, USA
    e-mail: lyan@ipac.caltech.edu
3  Astrophysics: Department of Physics, Nuclear and Astrophysics Laboratory, Keble Road, Oxford, OX1 3RH, UK
    e-mail: ihook@gemini.edu
4  Institute of Astronomy, Madingley Rd., Cambridge, CB3 0HA, UK
    e-mail: pettini@ast.cam.ac.uk
5  Astrophysics: Department of Physics, Nuclear and Astrophysics Laboratory, Keble Road, Oxford, OX1 3RH, UK
    e-mail: jvw@astro.ox.ac.uk
6  European Southern Observatory, Karl-Schwarzschild-Str. 2, 85748 Garching bei Munchen, Germany
    e-mail: pshaver@eso.org

(Received 19 June 2001 / Accepted 12 September 2001 )

We present the first results from the Complete Optical and Radio Absorption Line System (CORALS) survey. We have compiled a homogeneous sample of radio-selected QSOs from the Parkes Catalogue and searched for damped Lyman alpha systems (DLAs) towards every target, irrespective of its optical magnitude. This approach circumvents selection effects -particularly from intervening dust -which have long been suspected to affect DLA surveys in optically-selected, magnitude-limited QSO samples. The CORALS data set consists of 66 $z_{\rm em} \geq 2.2$ QSOs in which 22 DLAs with absorption redshifts $1.8 \leq z_{\rm abs}
\leq z_{\rm em}$ have been identified over a total redshift interval $\Delta z = 55.46$. Three of the DLAs are classified as "associated" systems with $z_{\rm abs} \sim z_{\rm em}$; of the 19 intervening DLAs, 17 are new discoveries. In this first paper of the CORALS series we describe the sample, present intermediate resolution spectroscopy and determine the population statistics of DLAs. We deduce a value of the neutral gas mass density traced by DLAs (expressed as a fraction of the closure density) $\log \Omega_{\rm DLA} h = -2.59^{+0.17}_{-0.24}$, and a number density of DLAs per unit redshift n(z) = 0.31+0.09-0.08, both at a mean redshift $\langle z \rangle = 2.37$. Both values are only marginally higher than those measured in optically selected samples of QSOs. Taking into account the errors, we conclude that dust-induced bias in previous surveys may have led to an underestimate of these quantities by at most a factor of two. While n(z) is greater in fainter (B > 20) QSOs, the effect is only at the ~1$\sigma$ level and we have not uncovered a previously unrecognised population of high column density ( $N(\rm H I) > 10^{21}$ cm-2) DLAs in front of faint QSOs. These conclusions are tentative because of the limited size of our data set; in particular the distribution of column densities is poorly sampled at the high end where a much larger survey of radio-selected QSOs is required the improve the statistics.

Key words: galaxies: quasars: absorption lines -- ISM: dust, extinction -- galaxies: evolution

Offprint request: S. Ellison, sellison@eso.org

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© ESO 2001

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