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Ionization Balance, Chemical Abundances, and the Metagalactic Radiation Field at High Redshift

Savin, Daniel Wolf

We have carried out a series of model calculations of the photoionized intergalactic medium (IGM) to determine the effects on the predicted ionic column densities due to uncertainties in the published dielectronic recombination (DR) rate coefficients. Based on our previous experimental work and a comparison of published theoretical DR rates, we estimate there is in general a factor of 2 uncertainty in existing DR rates used for modeling the IGM. We demonstrate that this uncertainty results in factors of ~1.9 uncertainty in the predicted N V and Si IV column densities, ~2.0 for O VI, and ~1.7 for C IV. We show that these systematic uncertainties translate into a systematic uncertainty of up to a factor of ~3.1 in the Si/C abundance ratio inferred from observations. The inferred IGM abundance ratio could thus be less than (Si/C)☉ or greater than 3(Si/C)☉. If the latter is true, then it suggests the metagalactic radiation field is not due purely to quasars but includes a significant stellar component. Lastly, column density ratios of Si IV to C IV versus C II to C IV are often used to constrain the decrement in the metagalactic radiation field at the He II absorption edge. We show that the variation in the predicted Si IV to C IV ratio due to a factor of 2 uncertainty in the DR rates is almost as large as that due to a factor of 10 change in the decrement. Laboratory measurements of the relevant DR resonance strengths and energies are the only unambiguous method of removing the effects of these atomic physics uncertainties from models of the IGM.

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Title
The Astrophysical Journal
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1086/308670

More About This Work

Academic Units
Astronomy and Astrophysics
Published Here
March 27, 2013