Low-redshift Lyman limit systems as diagnostics of cosmological inflows and outflows

Zachary Hafen, Claude Andre Faucher-Giguére, Daniel Angles-Alcazar, Dusan Keres, Robert Feldmann, Robert Feldmann, T. K. Chan, Eliot Quataert, Norman Murray, Philip F. Hopkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


We use cosmological hydrodynamic simulations with stellar feedback from the FIRE (Feedback In Realistic Environments) project to study the physical nature of Lyman limit systems (LLSs) at z = 1. At these low redshifts, LLSs are closely associated with dense gas structures surrounding galaxies, such as galactic winds, dwarf satellites and cool inflows from the intergalactic medium. Our analysis is based on 14 zoom-in simulations covering the halo mass range Mh 109 1013 Mat z = 0, which we convolve with the dark matter halo mass function to produce cosmological statistics. We find that the majority of cosmologically selected LLSs are associated with haloes in the mass range 1010 Mh 1012 M. The incidence and H I column density distribution of simulated absorbers with columns in the range 1016.2 = NH I = 2 × 1020 cm-2 are consistent with observations. High-velocity outflows (with radial velocity exceeding the halo circular velocity by a factor of 2) tend to have higher metallicities ([X/H] ∼ -0.5) while very low metallicity ([X/H] < -2) LLSs are typically associated with gas infalling from the intergalactic medium. However, most LLSs occupy an intermediate region in metallicity-radial velocity space, for which there is no clear trend between metallicity and radial kinematics. The overall simulated LLS metallicity distribution has a mean (standard deviation) [X/H] = -0.9 (0.4) and does not show significant evidence for bimodality, in contrast to recent observational studies, but consistent with LLSs arising from haloes with a broad range of masses and metallicities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2292-2304
Number of pages13
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Cosmology: theory
  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: formation
  • Galaxies: haloes
  • Intergalactic medium
  • Quasars: absorption lines


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