Low-Redshift Lyman Limit Systems as Diagnostics of Cosmological Inflows and Outflows

Hafen et al., available on arXiv.

Abstract: We use cosmological hydrodynamic simulations with stellar feedback from the FIRE 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 M_h~10^9-10^13 Msun at 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 halos in the mass range 10^10 < M_h < 10^12 Msun. The incidence and HI column density distribution of simulated absorbers with columns 10^16.2 < N_HI < 2x10^20 cm^-2 are consistent with observations. High-velocity outflows (with radial velocity exceeding the halo circular velocity by a factor >~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. Metal-enriched inflows arise in the FIRE simulations as a result of galactic winds that fall back onto galaxies at low redshift. 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 halos with a broad range of masses and metallicities.