Theses Doctoral

Mapping Ultra-Low Surface Brightness H-alpha Emission Around Nearby Galaxies

Melso, Nicole

The circumgalactic medium (CGM) is thought to contain the massive reservoir of gas exchanged over the course of galactic evolution, including the fuel for future star formation and the remnants of a galaxy’s merger history. Models and observations suggest that the CGM has a very low density, and faint optical or UV emission from this gas is exceedingly difficult to detect. This thesis is a combination of simulations, instrumentation and observations aimed at ultimately understanding the distribution and kinematics of ionized gas in the CGM.

We present a suite of small-box hydrodynamic simulations created to study the interaction between smooth gas inflow and supernovae-driven outflow at the disk-halo interface where the galactic disk transitions into the CGM. They track the fate and kinematic evolution of gas accreting onto the galactic disk and find evidence of partial mixing with the enriched outflow. We use equilibrium photoionization models to create mock surface brightness maps of Ha and OVI emission. These observables motivate the need for new instrumentation and in suit, we present the newly commissioned Circumgalactic Ha Spectrograph (CHaS): a custom integral field unit (IFU) spectrograph tailored to detect low-surface brightness optical emission in the low-redshift universe. CHaS is deployed in the focal plane of the MDM Observatory Hiltner 2.4-meter telescope, conducting wide-field (10' x 10') spectral imaging with a competitive survey speed proportional to the high instrument grasp. A microlens array segments the field of view into > 60,000 spectra with a spatial resolution of 2.6'' and a resolving power of R ~ 10,000.

Accordingly, CHaS is capable of resolving structure on scales less than 1 kpc (at 10 Mpc) and distinguishing emission lines separated by less than 40 km/s. As designed, a 50-100h exposure with CHaS would be the deepest H-alpha image and velocity field ever obtained, reaching a surface brightness of a few mR on scales of a few arcmin. Shorter, hour-long integrations with CHaS reveal a detailed map of the denser interstellar medium and bright emission at the disk-halo interface. We present results for three early commissioning targets: NGC 4631, NGC 7331 and NGC 1068, including high-resolution velocity maps and detections of new extended emission line regions far into the halo. We report a previously unnoted ribbon of ionized gas around NGC 1068, extending tens of kpc from the galactic disk beyond the known outer filamentary structure. Ongoing observations will provide a deeper probe of ionized gas far into the CGM of many nearby galaxy targets, detecting faint extended emission and mapping the velocity of ionized gas beyond the disk.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Schiminovich, David
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 19, 2022