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The evolution of damped Ly-$\alpha$ absorbers: metallicities and star formation rates

Abstract

Damped Lyman-$\alpha$ (DLA) and sub-DLA quasar absorption lines provide powerful probes of the evolution of metals, gas, and stars in galaxies. One major obstacle in trying to understand the evolution of DLAs and sub-DLAs has been the small number of metallicity measurements at $z<1.5$, an epoch spanning $\sim 70$% of the cosmic history. In recent surveys with the Hubble Space Telescope and Multiple Mirror Telescope, we have doubled the DLA Zn sample at $z<1.5$. Combining our results with those at higher redshifts from the literature, we find that the global mean metallicity of DLAs does not rise to the Solar value at low redshifts. These surprising results appear to contradict the near-Solar mean metallicity observed for nearby ($z \approx 0$) galaxies and the predictions of cosmic chemical evolution models based on the global star formation history. Finally, we discuss direct constraints on the star formation rates (SFRs) in the absorber galaxies from our deep Fabry-Perot Ly-$\alpha$ imaging study and other emission-line studies in the literature. A large fraction of the observed heavy-element quasar absorbers at $0<z<3.4$ appear to have SFRs substantially below the global mean SFR, consistent with the low metallicities observed in the spectroscopic studies.

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The evolution of damped Ly-$\alpha$ absorbers: metallicities and star formation rates

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