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Evolution of the Intergalactic Medium

Most of the baryons (e.g. H, He, C, N, O) in the Universe, at all epochs and especially at high redshift, are not contained within stars or galaxies but are in the intergalactic medium(IGM). The primary observational tool for deriving the physical properties (temperature, kinematics, ionization state, metal content) of these baryons is via absorption lines imprinted on the spectra of background quasars.


High-resolution quasar spectra, together with numerical simulations, have demonstrated that the IGM is arranged in a "cosmic web" of filaments and voids, with galaxies forming in the densest regions. Research in this area at the institute uses quasar spectra to try and understand how the IGM evolves with time, and how galaxies and the IGM interact. One of the areas that we focus on is the  study the processes by which hydrogen in the IGM is reionized by the first galaxies and helium is reionized by quasars. Recent projects have included determining the total mass of neutral hydrogen; charting the thermal history of the IGM, searching for the chemical signatures of the first galaxies, and measuring the total output of ionizing photons

This research is undertaken by  the KICC researchers both by exploiting detailed numerical simulations and by comparing them with the imprint of the IGM onto the spectra of the most distant quasars, discovered through wide area surveys such as VISTA and DES, and observed through the VLT and Keck high resolution spectrometers.

In the future the search of very high redshift quasars, appropriate to explore the physical conditions of the Universe approaching reionization, will be extended to the next generation surveys exploiting LSST and Euclid. In the future also deep spectra will be obtained thanks to the HIRES instrument at the E-ELT, in which KICC is heavily involved.

People involved in this area are: