Witnessing galaxy assembly in an extended z ≈ 3 structure

Michele Fumagalli*, Ruari Mackenzie, James Trayford, Tom Theuns, Sebastiano Cantalupo, Lise Christensen, Johan P. U. Fynbo, Palle Møller, John O'Meara, J. Xavier Prochaska, Marc Rafelski, Tom Shanks

*Corresponding author for this work

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We present new observations acquired with the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer instrument on the Very Large Telescope in a quasar field that hosts a high column density damped Lyα absorber (DLA) at z ≈ 3.25. We detect Lyα emission from a nebula at the redshift of the DLA with line luminosity (27 ± 1) × 1041 erg s-1, which extends over 37 ± 1 kpc above a surface brightness limit of 6 × 10-19 erg s-1 cm-2 arcsec-2 at a projected distance of 30.5 ± 0.5 kpc from the quasar sightline. Two clumps lie inside this nebula, both with Lyα rest-frame equivalent width > 50Å and with relative line-of-sight velocities aligned with two main absorption components seen in the DLA spectrum. In addition, we identify a compact galaxy at a projected distance of 19.1 ± 0.5 kpc from the quasar sightline. The galaxy spectrum is noisy but consistent with that of a star-forming galaxy at the DLA redshift.We argue that the Lyα nebula is ionized by radiation from star formation inside the two clumps, or by radiation from the compact galaxy. In either case, these data imply the presence of a structure with size ≫50 kpc inside which galaxies are assembling, a picture consistent with galaxy formation in groups and filaments as predicted by cosmological simulations such as the EAGLE simulations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3686-3698
Number of pages13
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
Early online date26 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017


  • galaxies: evolution
  • galaxies: formation
  • galaxies: haloes
  • galaxies: highredshift
  • quasars: absorption lines
  • quasars: individual: J025518.58+004847.6
  • UKRI
  • STFC
  • ST/P000541/1
  • ST/K00042X/1
  • ST/H008519/1


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