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The nature of HI absorbers in GRB afterglows: clues from hydrodynamic simulations

The nature of HI absorbers in GRB afterglows: clues from hydrodynamic simulations,10.1111/j.1365-2966.2009.16017.x,Monthly Notices of The Royal Astron

The nature of HI absorbers in GRB afterglows: clues from hydrodynamic simulations  
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In recent work, we have shown that it is possible to link quantitatively many aspects of damped Lyman alpha (DLA) absorbers in the spectra of quasars to high resolution simulations of galaxy formation. Using runs from the same series of hydrodynamic numerical studies, we consider the expected properties of Lyman alpha absorbers seen in the spectra of high redshift (z>2) gamma ray burst afterglows (GRB-DLAs). If GRBs are associated with the death of massive stars, their afterglows provide insights into otherwise unprobed regions of protogalactic objects, but detailed physical interpretations are currently embryonic. We find that median impact parameters (measured from the potential minimum) are approximately 1 kpc for GRBs compared with 4 kpc for QSO-DLAs. However, an equally important difference is that GRB-DLAs are predominantly associated with halos of mass 10^10<M_vir/M_sol<10^12, an order of magnitude larger than the hosts of QSO-DLAs. Accordingly, there are differences in the stellar properties of hosts. Our simulations accurately predict the form of the GRB-DLA HI column density distribution, producing quantitative agreement for N_HI>10^19 cm^-2, but they somewhat underpredict the incidence of low column densities N_HI<10^19 cm^-2. Line-of-sight neutral gas metallicities predicted by our simulations (10^-2 < Z/Z_sol < 1) are consistent with the modest observational constraints. Because of large internal dispersions in gas metallicities, this agreement is not significantly compromised by imposing a cut-off on the metallicity of stars able to launch GRBs (Z_star<Z_sol/3), confounding claims that the observed metallicity of GRB-DLAs poses a challenge to current GRB models. (Abridged.)
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