Volume 607, November 2017
|Number of page(s)||18|
|Published online||16 November 2017|
Resonant line transfer in a fog: using Lyman-alpha to probe tiny structures in atomic gas⋆
1 Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics, University of Oslo, Postboks 1029, 0315 Oslo, Norway
2 Department of Physics, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA
Received: 20 April 2017
Accepted: 19 July 2017
Motivated by observational and theoretical work that suggest very small-scale (≲ 1 pc) structure in the circumgalactic medium of galaxies and in other environments, we study Lyman-α (Lyα) radiative transfer in an extremely clumpy medium with many clouds of neutral gas along the line of sight. While previous studies have typically considered radiative transfer through sightlines intercepting ≲ 10 clumps, we explored the limit of a very large number of clumps per sightline (up to fc ~ 1000). Our main finding is that, for covering factors greater than some critical threshold, a multiphase medium behaves similarly to a homogeneous medium in terms of the emergent Lyα spectrum. The value of this threshold depends on both the clump column density and the movement of the clumps. We estimated this threshold analytically and compare our findings to radiative transfer simulations with a range of covering factors, clump column densities, radii, and motions. Our results suggest that (i) the success in fitting observed Lyα spectra using homogeneous “shell models” (and the corresponding failure of multiphase models) hints at the presence of very small-scale structure in neutral gas, which is in agreement within a number of other observations; and (ii) the recurrent problems of reproducing realistic line profiles from hydrodynamical simulations may be due to their inability to resolve small-scale structure, which causes simulations to underestimate the effective covering factor of neutral gas clouds.
Key words: radiative transfer / ISM: clouds / galaxies: ISM / line: formation / scattering / galaxies: high-redshift
The movie associated to Fig. B.2 is available at http://www.aanda.org
© ESO, 2017
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