Photoionization models for extreme Ly alpha lambda 1216 and HeII lambda 1640 ratios in quasar halos, and PopIII vs. AGN diagnostics

Humphrey, A., Villar Martín, M., Binette, L., Raj, R. 2018. Photoionization models for extreme Ly alpha lambda 1216 and HeII lambda 1640 ratios in quasar halos, and PopIII vs. AGN diagnostics. Astronomy and Astrophysics 621 DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/201732007

We explore potential mechanisms to produce extremely high Ly alpha/HeII flux ratios, or to enhance the observed number of Ly alpha photons per incident ionizing photon, in extended active galactic nucleus (AGN) photoionized nebulae at high-redshift.

Methods. We computed models to simulate, in the low density regime, photoionization of interstellar gas by the radiation field of a luminous AGN. We have explored the impact of ionization parameter, gas metallicity, ionizing spectrum, electron energy distribution, and cloud viewing angle on the relative fluxes of Ly alpha, HeII and other lines, and on the observed number of Ly alpha photons per incident ionizing photon. We have compared our model results with recent observations of quasar Ly alpha halos at z similar to 3.5.

Results. Low ionization parameter, a relatively soft or filtered ionizing spectrum, low gas metallicity, kappa-distributed electron energies, or reflection of Ly ff photons by neutral hydrogen can all result in significantly enhanced Ly alpha relative to other lines (>= 10%), with log Ly alpha/HeII reaching values of up to 4.6. In the cases of low gas metallicity, reflection by HI, or a hard or filtered ionizing spectrum, the observed number of Ly alpha photons per incident ionizing photon is itself significantly enhanced above the nominal Case B value of 0.66 due to collisional excitation, reaching values as high as 5.3 in an «extreme case» model which combines several of these effects. We find that at low gas metallicity (e.g. Z/Z(circle dot) = 0.1) the production of Ly alpha photons is predominantly via collisional excitation rather than by recombination. In addition, we find that the collisional excitation of Ly alpha becomes much more efficient if the ionizing continuum spectrum has been pre-filtered through an optically thin screen of gas closer to the AGN (e.g. by a wide-angle, feedbackdriven outflow). We also show that the Ly alpha and HeII emission line ratios of a sample of previously studied quasars at z similar to 3.5 are consistent with AGN-photoionization of gas with moderate to low metallicity and/or low ionization parameter, without requiring exotic ionization or excitation mechanisms such as strong line-transfer effects. In addition, we present a set of UV-optical diagnostic diagrams to distinguish between photoionization by Pop III stars and photoionization by an AGN.

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