Lyα cooling emission from galaxy formation

Claude André Faucher-Giguère*, Dušan Kereš, Mark Dijkstra, Lars Hernquist, Matias Zaldarriaga

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

157 Scopus citations


Recent numerical and analytical studies have shown that galaxies accrete most of their baryons via the cold mode, from streams with temperatures T ∼ 104-105 K. At these temperatures, the streams should radiate primarily in the Lyα line and have therefore been proposed as a model to power the extended, high-redshift objects known as Lyα blobs, and may also be relevant for powering a range of less luminous Lyα sources. We introduce a new Lyα radiative transfer code, αRT , and calculate the transport of the Lyα emission from cold accretion in cosmological hydrodynamical simulations. In this paper, we describe our methodology, and address physical and numerical issues that are critical to making accurate predictions for the cooling luminosity, but that have been mostly neglected or treated simplistically so far. In particular, we highlight the importance of self-shielding and of properly treating sub-resolution models in numerical simulations. Most existing simulations do not self-consistently incorporate these effects, which can lead to order-of-magnitude errors in the predicted cooling luminosity. Using a combination of post-processing ionizing radiative transfer and re-simulation techniques, we develop an approximation to the consistent evolution of the self-shielded gas. We quantify the dependence of the Lyα cooling luminosity on halo mass at z = 3 for the simplified problem of pure gas accretion embedded in the cosmic radiation background and without feedback, and present radiative transfer results for a particular system.While pure cooling in massive halos (without additional energy input from star formation and active galactic nuclei) is in principle sufficient to produce Lα ∼ 1043-1044 erg s-1 blobs, this requires including energy released in gas of density sufficient to form stars, but which is kept 100% gaseous in our optimistic estimates. Excluding emission from such dense gas yields lower luminosities by up to one to two orders of magnitude at high masses, making it difficult to explain the observed Lyα blobs with pure cooling. Resonant scattering produces diffuse Lyα halos, even for centrally concentrated emission, and broad double peaked line profiles. In particular, the emergent line widths are in general not representative of the velocity dispersion within galactic halos and cannot be directly used to infer host halo masses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)633-657
Number of pages25
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 10 2010


  • Cosmology: theory
  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: formation
  • Galaxies: high-redshift
  • Intergalactic medium
  • Radiative transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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