Metal-ion absorption in conductively evaporating clouds

Orly Gnat*, Amiel Sternberg, Christopher F. McKee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


We present computations of the ionization structure and metal-absorption properties of thermally conductive interface layers that surround evaporating warm spherical clouds embedded in a hot medium. We rely on the analytical steady-state formalism of Dalton and Balbus to calculate the temperature profile in the evaporating gas, and we explicitly solve the time-dependent ionization equations for H, He, C, N, O, Si, and S in the conductive interface.We include photoionization by an external field.We estimate how departures from equilibrium ionization affect the resonance-line cooling efficiencies in the evaporating gas, and determine the conditions for which radiative losses may be neglected in the solution for the evaporation dynamics and temperature profile. Our results indicate that nonequilibrium cooling significantly increases the value of the saturation parameter σ0 at which radiative losses begin to affect the flow dynamics. As applications, we calculate the ion fractions and projected column densities arising in the evaporating layers surrounding dwarf-galaxy-scale objects that are also photoionized by metagalactic radiation. We compare our results to the UV metal-absorption column densities observed in local highly ionized metal absorbers, located in the Galactic corona or intergalactic medium. Conductive interfaces significantly enhance the formation of high ions such as C3+, N4+, and O5+ relative to purely photoionized clouds, especially for clouds embedded in a high-pressure corona. However, the enhanced columns are still too low to account for the Ovi columns (∼1014 cm-2) observed in the local high-velocity metal-ion absorbers. We find that column densities larger than ∼1013 cm-2 cannot be produced in evaporating clouds. Our results do support the conclusion of Savage and Lehner that absorption due to evaporating Ovi likely occurs in the local interstellar medium, with characteristic columns of ∼1013 cm-2.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1315-1331
Number of pages17
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Atomic processes
  • Conduction
  • ISM: general
  • Plasmas
  • Quasars: absorption lines


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