A detailed view of filaments and sheets of the warm-hot intergalactic medium

PhD thesis

Start: Dec. 1, 2007

End: March 31, 2011

Status: completed

My PhD thesis is based on my research at the Leibniz-Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP) from December 2007 until March 2011 and was supervised by Dr. Jan Mücket and Prof. Dr. Matthias Steinmetz.

For a summary and some results I refer to the abstract of my thesis:

In the context of cosmological structure formation sheets, filaments and eventually halos form due to gravitational instabilities. It is noteworthy, that at all times, the majority of the baryons in the universe does not reside in the dense halos but in the filaments and the sheets of the intergalactic medium. While at higher redshifts of z > 2, these baryons can be detected via the absorption of light (originating from more distant sources) by neutral hydrogen at temperatures of T ~ 10^4 K (the Lyman-alpha forest), at lower redshifts only about 20 % can be found in this state. The remain (about 50 to 70 % of the total baryons mass) is unaccounted for by observational means. Numerical simulations predict that these missing baryons could reside in the filaments and sheets of the cosmic web at high temperatures of T = 10^4.5 - 10^7 K, but only at low to intermediate densities, and constitutes the warm-hot intergalactic medium (WHIM). The high temperatures of the WHIM are caused by the formation of shocks and the subsequent shock-heating of the gas. This results in a high degree of ionization and renders the reliable detection of the WHIM a challenging task. Recent high-resolution hydrodynamical simulations indicate that, at redshifts of z ~ 2, filaments are able to provide very massive galaxies with a significant amount of cool gas at temperatures of T ~ 10^4 K. This could have an important impact on the star-formation in those galaxies.
It is therefore of principle importance to investigate the particular hydro- and thermodynamical conditions of these large filament structures. Density and temperature profiles, and velocity fields, are expected to leave their special imprint on spectroscopic observations. A potential multiphase structure may act as tracer in observational studies of the WHIM. In the context of cold streams, it is important to explore the processes, which regulate the amount of gas transported by the streams. This includes the time evolution of filaments, as well as possible quenching mechanisms. In this context, the halo mass range in which cold stream accretion occurs is of particular interest.
In order to address these questions, we perform particular hydrodynamical simulations of very high resolution, and investigate the formation and evolution of prototype structures representing the typical filaments and sheets of the WHIM.
We start with a comprehensive study of the one-dimensional collapse of a sinusoidal density perturbation (pancake formation) and examine the influence of radiative cooling, heating due to an UV background, thermal conduction, and the effect of small-scale perturbations given by the cosmological power spectrum. We use a set of simulations, parametrized by the wave length of the initial perturbation L. For L ~ 2 Mpc/h the collapse leads to shock-confined structures. As a result of radiative cooling and of heating due to an UV background, a relatively cold and dense core forms. With increasing L the core becomes denser and more concentrated. Thermal conduction enhances this trend and may lead to an evaporation of the core at very large L ~ 30 Mpc/h.
When extending our simulations into three dimensions, instead of a pancake structure, we obtain a configuration consisting of well-defined sheets, filaments, and a gaseous halo. For L > 4 Mpc/h filaments form, which are fully confined by an accretion shock. As with the one-dimensional pancakes, they exhibit an isothermal core. Thus, our results confirm a multiphase structure, which may generate particular spectral tracers. We find that, after its formation, the core becomes shielded against further infall of gas onto the filament, and its mass content decreases with time. In the vicinity of the halo, the filament's core can be attributed to the cold streams found in other studies. We show, that the basic structure of these cold streams exists from the very beginning of the collapse process. Further on, the cross section of the streams is constricted by the outwards moving accretion shock of the halo. Thermal conduction leads to a complete evaporation of the cold stream for L > 6 Mpc/h. This corresponds to halos with a total mass higher than M_halo = 10^13 M_sun, and predicts that in more massive halos star-formation can not be sustained by cold streams. Far away from the gaseous halo, the temperature gradients in the filament are not sufficiently strong for thermal conduction to be effective.

The full text can be accessed here. The results are published in Klar & Mücket 2010 and Klar & Mücket 2012.