Spin temperatures and covering factors for H I 21-cm absorption in damped Lyman a systems

S. J. Curran*, M. T. Murphy, Y. M. Pihlström, J. K. Webb, C. R. Purcell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


We investigate the practice of assigning high spin temperatures to damped Lyman α absorption systems (DLAs) not detected in H I 21 -cm absorption. In particular, Kanekar & Chengalur have attributed the mix of 21-cm detections and non-detections in low-redshift (z abs ≤ 2.04) DLAs to a mix of spin temperatures, while the non-detections at high redshift were attributed to high spin temperatures. Below z abs = 0.9, where some of the DLA host galaxy morphologies are known, we find that 21-cm absorption is normally detected towards large radio sources when the absorber is known to be associated with a large intermediate (spiral) galaxy. Furthermore, at these redshifts, only one of the six 21-cm non-detections has an optical identification and these DLAs tend to lie along the sight-lines to the largest background radio continuum sources. For these and many of the high-redshift DLAs occulting large radio continua, we therefore expect covering factors of less than the assumed/estimated value of unity. This would have the effect of introducing a range of spin temperatures considerably narrower than the current range of ΔT s ≳ 9000 K, while still supporting the hypothesis that the high-redshift DLA sample comprises a larger proportion of compact galaxies than the low-redshift sample.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1509-1518
Number of pages10
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Cosmology: Observations
  • Early universe
  • Galaxies: Ism
  • Quasars: Absorption lines

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