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  1. Abstract Luminous quasars are powerful targets to investigate the role of feedback from supermassive black holes (BHs) in regulating the growth phases of BHs themselves and of their host galaxies, up to the highest redshifts. Here we investigate the cosmic evolution of the occurrence and kinematics of BH-driven outflows, as traced by broad absorption line (BAL) features, due to the C iv ionic transition. We exploit a sample of 1935 quasars at z = 2.1–6.6 with bolometric luminosity log( L bol /erg s −1 ) ≳ 46.5, drawn from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and from the X-Shooter legacy survey of Quasars at the Reionization Epoch (XQR-30). We consider rest-frame optical bright quasars to minimize observational biases due to quasar selection criteria. We apply a homogeneous BAL-identification analysis, based on employing composite template spectra to estimate the quasar intrinsic emission. We find a BAL quasar fraction close to 20% at z ∼ 2–4, while it increases to almost 50% at z ∼ 6. The velocity and width of the BAL features also increase at z ≳ 4.5. We exclude the possibility that the redshift evolution of the BAL properties is due to differences in terms of quasar luminosity and accretion rate. These results suggest significant BH feedback occurring in the 1 Gyr old universe, likely affecting the growth of BHs and, possibly, of their host galaxies, as supported by models of early BH and galaxy evolution. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024

    We measure the mean free path ($\lambda _{\rm mfp,H\, \small {I}}$), photoionization rate ($\langle \Gamma _{\rm H\, \small {I}} \rangle$), and neutral fraction ($\langle f_{\rm H\, \small {I}} \rangle$) of hydrogen in 12 redshift bins at 4.85 < z < 6.05 from a large sample of moderate resolution XShooter and ESI QSO absorption spectra. The fluctuations in ionizing radiation field are modelled by post-processing simulations from the Sherwood suite using our new code ‘EXtended reionization based on the Code for Ionization and Temperature Evolution’ (ex-cite). ex-cite uses efficient Octree summation for computing intergalactic medium attenuation and can generate large number of high resolution $\Gamma _{\rm H\, \small {I}}$ fluctuation models. Our simulation with ex-cite shows remarkable agreement with simulations performed with the radiative transfer code Aton and can recover the simulated parameters within 1σ uncertainty. We measure the three parameters by forward-modelling the  Lyα forest and comparing the effective optical depth ($\tau _{\rm eff, H\, \small {I}}$) distribution in simulations and observations. The final uncertainties in our measured parameters account for the uncertainties due to thermal parameters, modelling parameters, observational systematics, and cosmic variance. Our best-fitting parameters show significant evolution with redshift such that $\lambda _{\rm mfp,H\, \small {I}}$ and $\langle f_{\rm H\, \small {I}} \rangle$ decreases and increases by a factor ∼6 and ∼104, respectively from z ∼ 5 to z ∼ 6. By comparing our $\lambda _{\rm mfp,H\, \small {I}}$, $\langle \Gamma _{\rm H\, \small {I}} \rangle$ and $\langle f_{\rm H\, \small {I}} \rangle$ evolution with that in state-of-the-art Aton radiative transfer simulations and the Thesan and CoDa-III simulations, we find that our best-fitting parameter evolution is consistent with a model in which reionization completes by z ∼ 5.2. Our best-fitting model that matches the $\tau _{\rm eff, H\, \small {I}}$ distribution also reproduces the dark gap length distribution and transmission spike height distribution suggesting robustness and accuracy of our measured parameters.

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  3. Abstract

    The mean free path of ionizing photons,λmfp, is a critical parameter for modeling the intergalactic medium (IGM) both during and after reionization. We present direct measurements ofλmfpfrom QSO spectra over the redshift range 5 <z< 6, including the first measurements atz≃ 5.3 and 5.6. Our sample includes data from the XQR-30 VLT large program, as well as new Keck/ESI observations of QSOs nearz∼ 5.5, for which we also acquire new [Cii] 158μm redshifts with ALMA. By measuring the Lyman continuum transmission profile in stacked QSO spectra, we findλmfp=9.331.80+2.06,5.401.40+1.47,3.311.34+2.74, and0.810.48+0.73pMpc atz= 5.08, 5.31, 5.65, and 5.93, respectively. Our results demonstrate thatλmfpincreases steadily and rapidly with time over 5 <z< 6. Notably, we find thatλmfpdeviates significantly from predictions based on a fully ionized and relaxed IGM as late asz= 5.3. By comparing our results to model predictions and indirectλmfpconstraints based on IGM Lyαopacity, we find that the evolution ofλmfpis consistent with scenarios wherein the IGM is still undergoing reionization and/or retains large fluctuations in the ionizing UV background well below redshift 6.

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    The distribution and abundance of metals in the diffuse intergalactic medium (IGM) have implications for galaxy formation and evolution models, and has been argued to be sensitive to the Universe’s reionization history. However, reduced sensitivity in the near-IR implies that probing IGM metals at z > 4 is currently out of reach with the traditional method of detecting individual absorbers. We present a new technique based on clustering analysis that enables the detection of these weak IGM absorbers. We investigate the two-point correlation function (2PCF) of the ${\rm C\, {\small IV}}$ forest as a probe of IGM metallicity and enrichment topology by simulating the z = 4.5 IGM with models of inhomogeneous metal distributions. The 2PCF of the ${\rm C\, {\small IV}}$ forest demonstrates a clear peak at a characteristic separation corresponding to the doublet separation of the ${\rm C\, {\small IV}}$ line.The peak amplitude scales quadratically with metallicity, while enrichment topology affects both the shape and amplitude of the 2PCF. For models consistent with the distribution of metals at z ∼ 3, we find that we can constrain [C/H] to within 0.2 dex, log$\, M_{\rm {min}}$ to within 0.4 dex, and R to within 15 per cent. We show that CGM absorbers can be reliably identified and masked, thus recovering the underlying IGM signal. The auto-correlation of the metal-line forest presents a compelling avenue to constrain the IGM metallicity and enrichment topology with high precision at z > 4, thereby pushing such measurements into the Epoch of Reionization.

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    Proximity zones of high-redshift quasars are unique probes of their central supermassive black holes as well as the intergalactic medium (IGM) in the last stages of reionization. We present 22 new measurements of proximity zones of quasars with redshifts between 5.8 and 6.6, using the enlarged XQR-30 sample of high-resolution, high-SNR quasar spectra. The quasars in our sample have ultraviolet magnitudes of M1450 ∼ −27 and black hole masses of 109–1010 M⊙. Our inferred proximity zone sizes are 2–7 physical Mpc, with a typical uncertainty of less than 0.5 physical Mpc, which, for the first time, also includes uncertainty in the quasar continuum. We find that the correlation between proximity zone sizes and the quasar redshift, luminosity, or black hole mass, indicates a large diversity of quasar lifetimes. Two of our proximity zone sizes are exceptionally small. The spectrum of one of these quasars, with z  = 6.02, displays, unusually for this redshift, damping wing absorption without any detectable metal lines, which could potentially originate from the IGM. The other quasar has a high-ionization absorber ∼0.5 pMpc from the edge of the proximity zone. This work increases the number of proximity zone measurements available in the last stages of cosmic reionization to 87. This data will lead to better constraints on quasar lifetimes and obscuration fractions at high redshift, that in turn will help probe the seed mass and formation redshift of supermassive black holes.

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  6. The detection of starlight from the host galaxies of quasars during the reionization epoch (z > 6) has been elusive, even with deep HST observations1,2. The current highest redshift quasar host detected3, at z = 4.5, required the magnifying effect of a foreground lensing galaxy. Low-luminosity quasars4,5,6 from the Hyper Suprime-Cam Subaru Strategic Program (HSC-SSP)7 mitigate the challenge of detecting their underlying, previously-undetected host galaxies. Here we report rest-frame optical images and spectroscopy of two HSC-SSP quasars at z > 6 with JWST. Using NIRCam imaging at 3.6μm and 1.5μm and subtracting the light from the unresolved quasars, we find that the host galaxies are massive (stellar masses of 13 × and 3.4 × 1010 M⊙, respectively), compact, and disk-like. NIRSpec medium-resolution spectroscopy shows stellar absorption lines in the more massive quasar, confirming the detection of the host. Velocity-broadened gas in the vicinity of these quasars enables measurements of their black hole masses (1.4 × 109 and 2.0 × 108 M⊙, respectively). Their location in the black hole mass - stellar mass plane is consistent with the distribution at low redshift, suggesting that the relation between black holes and their host galaxies was already in place less than a billion years after the Big Bang. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 28, 2024
  7. Abstract Measuring the density of the intergalactic medium using quasar sight lines in the epoch of reionization is challenging due to the saturation of Ly α absorption. Near a luminous quasar, however, the enhanced radiation creates a proximity zone observable in the quasar spectra where the Ly α absorption is not saturated. In this study, we use 10 high-resolution ( R ≳ 10,000) z ∼ 6 quasar spectra from the extended XQR-30 sample to measure the density field in the quasar proximity zones. We find a variety of environments within 3 pMpc distance from the quasars. We compare the observed density cumulative distribution function (CDF) with models from the Cosmic Reionization on Computers simulation and find a good agreement between 1.5 and 3 pMpc from the quasar. This region is far away from the quasar hosts and hence approaching the mean density of the universe, which allows us to use the CDF to set constraints on the cosmological parameter σ 8 = 0.6 ± 0.3. The uncertainty is mainly due to the limited number of high-quality quasar sight lines currently available. Utilizing the more than 200 known quasars at z ≳ 6, this method will allow us to tighten the constraint on σ 8 to the percent level in the future. In the region closer to the quasar within 1.5 pMpc, we find that the density is higher than predicted in the simulation by 1.23 ± 0.17, suggesting that the typical host dark matter halo mass of a bright quasar ( M 1450 < −26.5) at z ∼ 6 is log 10 ( M h / M ⊙ ) = 12.5 − 0.7 + 0.4 . 
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  8. Abstract We present 0.″035 resolution (∼200 pc) imaging of the 158 μ m [C ii ] line and the underlying dust continuum of the z = 6.9 quasar J234833.34–305410.0. The 18 hour Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array observations reveal extremely compact emission (diameter ∼1 kpc) that is consistent with a simple, almost face-on, rotation–supported disk with a significant velocity dispersion of ∼160 km s −1 . The gas mass in just the central 200 pc is ∼4 × 10 9 M ⊙ , about a factor of two higher than that of the central supermassive black hole. Consequently we do not resolve the black hole’s sphere of influence, and find no kinematic signature of the central supermassive black hole. Kinematic modeling of the [C ii ] line shows that the dynamical mass at large radii is consistent with the gas mass, leaving little room for a significant mass contribution by stars and/or dark matter. The Toomre–Q parameter is less than unity throughout the disk, and thus is conducive to star formation, consistent with the high-infrared luminosity of the system. The dust in the central region is optically thick, at a temperature >132 K. Using standard scaling relations of dust heating by star formation, this implies an unprecedented high star formation rate density of >10 4 M ⊙ yr −1 kpc −2 . Such a high number can still be explained with the Eddington limit for star formation under certain assumptions, but could also imply that the central supermassive black hole contributes to the heating of the dust in the central 200 pc. 
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  9. Abstract We present a new investigation of the intergalactic medium near reionization using dark gaps in the Ly β forest. With its lower optical depth, Ly β offers a potentially more sensitive probe to any remaining neutral gas compared to the commonly used Ly α line. We identify dark gaps in the Ly β forest using spectra of 42 QSOs at z em > 5.5, including new data from the XQR-30 VLT Large Programme. Approximately 40% of these QSO spectra exhibit dark gaps longer than 10 h −1 Mpc at z ≃ 5.8. By comparing the results to predictions from simulations, we find that the data are broadly consistent both with models where fluctuations in the Ly α forest are caused solely by ionizing ultraviolet background fluctuations and with models that include large neutral hydrogen patches at z < 6 due to a late end to reionization. Of particular interest is a very long ( L = 28 h −1 Mpc) and dark ( τ eff ≳ 6) gap persisting down to z ≃ 5.5 in the Ly β forest of the z = 5.85 QSO PSO J025−11. This gap may support late reionization models with a volume-weighted average neutral hydrogen fraction of 〈 x H I 〉 ≳ 5% by z = 5.6. Finally, we infer constraints on 〈 x H I 〉 over 5.5 ≲ z ≲ 6.0 based on the observed Ly β dark gap length distribution and a conservative relationship between gap length and neutral fraction derived from simulations. We find 〈 x H I 〉 ≤ 0.05, 0.17, and 0.29 at z ≃ 5.55, 5.75, and 5.95, respectively. These constraints are consistent with models where reionization ends significantly later than z = 6. 
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