Evidence for diffuse molecular gas and dust in the hearts of gamma-ray burst host galaxies
Unveiling the nature of high-redshift damped Lyman-α systems
European Southern Observatory,
Alonso de Córdova 3107, Vitacura,
2 Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik, Giessenbachstraße, 85748 Garching, Germany
3 School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK
4 European Southern Observatory, Karl-Schwarzschild Str. 2, 85748 Garching bei München, Germany
5 The Cosmic Dawn Center, Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen University, Juliane Maries Vej 30, 2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
6 Department of Physics, University of Bath, Claverton Down, Bath BA2 7AY, UK
7 Physics Department, University of Calabria, Arcavacata di Rende, Italy University of Calabria, 87036 Rende, Italy
8 INAF – Osservatorio Astronomico di Roma, Via Frascati 33, 00040 Monteporzio Catone, Italy
9 Astroparticule et Cosmologie, Université Paris Diderot, CNRS/IN2P3, CEA/Irfu, Observatoire de Paris, Sorbonne Paris Cité, 10 Rue Alice Domon et Léonie Duquet, 75205 Paris Cedex 13, France
10 Department of Physics and Astronomy, Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29634-0978, USA
11 Centre for Astrophysics and Cosmology, Science Institute, University of Iceland, Dunhagi 5, 107 Reykjavík, Iceland
12 Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy, University of Amsterdam, Science Park 904, 1098 XH Amsterdam, The Netherlands
13 Department of Physics and Astronomy and Leicester Institute of Space and Earth Observation, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK
14 Department of Astrophysics/IMAPP, Radboud University, PO Box 9010, 6500 GL Nijmegen, The Netherlands
15 Australian Astronomical Observatory, PO Box 915, North Ryde, NSW 1670, Australia
Accepted: 16 January 2019
Context. Damped Lyman-α (DLA) absorption-line systems at the redshifts of gamma-ray burst (GRB) afterglows offer a unique way to probe the physical conditions within star-forming galaxies in the early Universe.
Aims. Here we built up a large sample of 22 GRBs at redshifts z > 2 observed with VLT/X-shooter in order to determine the abundances of hydrogen, metals, dust, and molecular species. This allows us to study the metallicity and dust depletion effects in the neutral interstellar medium at high redshift and to answer the question of whether (and why) there might be a lack of H2 in GRB-DLAs.
Methods. We developed new methods based on the Bayesian inference package, PyMC, to FIT absorption lines and measure the column densities of different metal species as well as atomic and molecular hydrogen. The derived relative abundances are used to FIT dust depletion sequences and determine the dust-to-metals ratio and the host-galaxy intrinsic visual extinction. Additionally, we searched for the absorption signatures of vibrationally-excited H2 and carbon monoxide.
Results. We find that there is no lack of H2-bearing GRB-DLAs. We detect absorption lines from molecular hydrogen in 6 out of 22 GRB afterglow spectra, with molecular fractions ranging between f ≃ 5 × 10−5 and f ≃ 0.04, and claim tentative detections in three additional cases. For the remainder of the sample, we measure, depending on S/N, spectral coverage and instrumental resolution, more or less stringent upper limits. The GRB-DLAs in our sample have on average low metallicities, [X/H]¯ ≈ −1.3, comparable to the population of extremely-strong QSO-DLAs (log N(H I) > 21.5). Furthermore, H2-bearing GRB-DLAs are found to be associated with significant dust extinction, AV > 0.1 mag, and dust-to-metals ratios DTM > 0.4, confirming the importance of dust grains for the production of molecules. All these systems exhibit neutral hydrogen column densities log N(H I) > 21.7. The overall fraction of H2 detections in GRB-DLAs is ≥ 27% (41% including tentative detections), which is three to four times larger than in the general QSO-DLA population. For 2 < z < 4, and considering column densities log N(H I) > 21.7, the H2 detection fraction is 60–80% in GRB-DLAs and in extremely strong QSO-DLAs. This is likely due to the fact that both GRB- and QSO-DLAs with high neutral hydrogen column densities are probed by sight-lines with small impact parameters, indicating that the absorbing gas is associated with the inner regions of the absorbing galaxy, where the gas pressure is higher and the conversion of H I to H2 takes place. In the case of GRB hosts, this diffuse molecular gas is located at distances ≳ 500 pc from the GRB and hence is unrelated to the star-forming region where the event occurred.
Key words: ISM: abundances / dust, extinction / ISM: molecules / techniques: spectroscopic / galaxies: high-redshift
© ESO 2019