Gas Accretion via Lyman Limit Systems

  • Nicolas LehnerEmail author
Part of the Astrophysics and Space Science Library book series (ASSL, volume 430)


In cosmological simulations, a large fraction of the partial Lyman limit systems (pLLSs; \(16\lesssim \log N_{\text{HI}} < 17.2\)) and LLSs (17. 2 ≤ logNHI < 19) probes large-scale flows in and out of galaxies through their circumgalactic medium (CGM). The overall low metallicity of the cold gaseous streams feeding galaxies seen in these simulations is the key to differentiating them from metal rich gas that is either outflowing or being recycled. In recent years, several groups have empirically determined an entirely new wealth of information on the pLLSs and LLSs over a wide range of redshifts. A major focus of the recent research has been to empirically determine the metallicity distribution of the gas probed by pLLSs and LLSs in sizable and representative samples at both low (z < 1) and high (z > 2) redshifts. Here I discuss unambiguous evidence for metal-poor gas at all z probed by the pLLSs and LLSs. At z < 1, all the pLLSs and LLSs so far studied are located in the CGM of galaxies with projected distances \(\lesssim\) 100–200 kpc. Regardless of the exact origin of the low-metallicity pLLSs/LLSs, there is a significant mass of cool, dense, low-metallicity gas in the CGM that may be available as fuel for continuing star formation in galaxies over cosmic time. As such, the metal-poor pLLSs and LLSs are currently among the best observational evidence of cold, metal-poor gas accretion onto galaxies.


Star Formation Column Density High Redshift Starburst Galaxy Cosmological Simulation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



It is a pleasure to thank all my collaborators, current and past graduate students who all have been key on shedding light on these (now much less mysterious) absorbers over the last few years, and, in particular, Chris Howk, John O’Meara, and Xavier Prochaska who have been critical players on many aspects to push forward these projects at both low and high redshifts. I also thank Chris Howk for reading and providing useful comments on this manuscript and Lorrie Straka for reducing the MUSE data and providing the galaxy redshifts that help to make Fig. 7. The writing and some of the research presented in this work has been supported by NASA through the Astrophysics Data Analysis Program (ADAP) grant NNX16AF52G, HST-AR-12854, and HST-GO-14269 from the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Incorporated, under NASA contract NAS5-26555.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Astrophysics, Department of PhysicsUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA

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