Spectroscopy of extended Ly α envelopes around z = 4.5 quasars

P. L. North, F. Courbin, A. Eigenbrod, D. Chelouche

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


What are the frequency, shape, kinematics, and luminosity of Lyα envelopes surrounding radio-quiet quasars at high redshift, and is the luminosity of these envelopes related to that of the quasar or not? As a first step towards answering these questions, we have searched for Lyα envelopes around six radio-quiet quasars at z ∼ 4.5, using deep spectra taken with the FORS2 spectrograph attached to the UT1 of the Very Large Telescope (VLT). Using the multi-slit mode allows us to observe several point spread function stars simultaneously with the quasar, and to remove the point-like emission from the quasar, unveiling the faint underlying Lyα envelope with unprecedented depth. An envelope is detected around four of the six quasars, which suggests that these envelopes are very frequent. Their diameter varies in the range 26 ≈ d ≈ 64 kpc, their surface brightness in the range 3 × 10 -19 ≈ μ ≈ 2 × 10 -17 erg s -1 cm -2 arcsec -2, and their luminosity in the range 10 42 ≈ L(Lyα) ≈ 10 44 erg s -1. Their shape may be strongly asymmetric. The Lyα emission line full width at half maximum (FWHM) is 900 < FWHM < 2200 km s -1 and its luminosity correlates with that of the broad line region (BLR) of the quasar, with the notable exception of BR2237-0607, the brightest object in our sample. The same holds for the relation between the envelope Lyα luminosity and the ionizing luminosity of the quasar. While the deep slit spectroscopy presented in this paper is very efficient at detecting very faint Lyα envelopes, narrow-band imaging is now needed to measure accurately their spatial extent, radial luminosity profile, and total luminosity. These observables are crucial to help us discriminate between the three possible radiation processes responsible for the envelope emission: (i) cold accretion, (ii) fluorescence induced by the quasar, and (iii) scattering of the BLR photons by cool gas.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA91
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
StatePublished - 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Dr. Lise Christensen for providing us with the electronic form of the Tables in CJW and for useful discussions. This study is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). We thank the anonymous referee for crucial and constructive comments, and Dr. Michael Rauch for the clarification of a technical point.


  • Quasars: emission lines
  • Quasars: general
  • Quasars: individual: BR 2237-0607
  • Quasars: individual: SDSS J14472+0401
  • Quasars: individual: SDSS J21474-0838

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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