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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 reionizationmore »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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    Intervening metal absorption lines in the spectra of z ≳ 6 quasars are fundamental probes of the ionization state and chemical composition of circumgalactic and intergalactic gas near the end of the reionization epoch. Large absorber samples are required to robustly measure typical absorber properties and to refine models of the synthesis, transport, and ionization of metals in the early Universe. The Ultimate XSHOOTER legacy survey of quasars at z ∼ 5.8–6.6 (XQR-30) has obtained high signal-to-noise spectra of 30 luminous quasars, nearly quadrupling the existing sample of 12 high quality z ∼ 6 quasar spectra. We use this unprecedented sample to construct a catalogue of 778 systems showing absorption in one or more of Mg ii (360 systems), Fe ii (184), C ii (46), C iv (479), Si iv (127), and N v (13) which span 2 ≲ z ≲ 6.5. This catalogue significantly expands on existing samples of z ≳ 5 absorbers, especially for C iv and Si iv which are important probes of the ionizing photon background at high redshift. The sample is 50 per cent (90 per cent) complete for rest-frame equivalent widths W ≳ 0.03 Å (0.09 Å). We publicly release the absorber catalogue along with completeness statistics and a python script to compute the absorption search path for different ions andmore »redshift ranges. This data set is a key legacy resource for studies of enriched gas from the era of galaxy assembly to cosmic noon, and paves the way for even higher redshift studies with JWST and 30 m-class telescopes.

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    We present the Sherwood–Relics simulations, a new suite of large cosmological hydrodynamical simulations aimed at modelling the intergalactic medium (IGM) during and after the cosmic reionization of hydrogen. The suite consists of over 200 simulations that cover a wide range of astrophysical and cosmological parameters. It also includes simulations that use a new lightweight hybrid scheme for treating radiative transfer effects. This scheme follows the spatial variations in the ionizing radiation field, as well as the associated fluctuations in IGM temperature and pressure smoothing. It is computationally much cheaper than full radiation hydrodynamics simulations, and circumvents the difficult task of calibrating a galaxy formation model to observational constraints on cosmic reionization. Using this hybrid technique, we study the spatial fluctuations in IGM properties that are seeded by patchy cosmic reionization. We investigate the relevant physical processes and assess their impact on the z > 4 Lyman-α forest. Our main findings are: (i) consistent with previous studies patchy reionization causes large-scale temperature fluctuations that persist well after the end of reionization, (ii) these increase the Lyman-α forest flux power spectrum on large scales, and (iii) result in a spatially varying pressure smoothing that correlates well with the local reionization redshift.more »(iv) Structures evaporated or puffed up by photoheating cause notable features in the Lyman-α forest, such as flat-bottom or double-dip absorption profiles.

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    We investigate the abundance and distribution of metals in the high-redshift intergalactic medium and circum-galactic medium through the analysis of a sample of almost 600 Si iv absorption lines detected in high- and intermediate-resolution spectra of 147 quasars. The evolution of the number density of Si iv lines, the column density distribution function, and the cosmic mass density are studied in the redshift interval 1.7 ≲ z ≲ 6.2 and for log N(Si iv) ≥ 12.5. All quantities show a rapid increase between z ∼ 6 and z ≲ 5 and then an almost constant behaviour to z ∼ 2 in very good agreement with what is already observed for C iv absorption lines. The present results are challenging for numerical simulations: When simulations reproduce our Si iv results, they tend to underpredict the properties of C iv, and when the properties of C iv are reproduced, the number of strong Si iv lines [log N(Si iv) > 14] is overpredicted.


    The elemental abundances in the broad-line regions of high-redshift quasars trace the chemical evolution in the nuclear regions of massive galaxies in the early Universe. In this work, we study metallicity-sensitive broad emission-line flux ratios in rest-frame UV spectra of 25 high-redshift (5.8 < z < 7.5) quasars observed with the VLT/X-shooter and Gemini/GNIRS instruments, ranging over $\log \left({{M}_{\rm {BH}}/\rm {M}_{\odot }}\right) = 8.4-9.8$ in black hole mass and $\log \left(\rm {L}_{\rm {bol}}/\rm {erg \, s}^{-1}\right) = 46.7-47.7$ in bolometric luminosity. We fit individual spectra and composites generated by binning across quasar properties: bolometric luminosity, black hole mass, and blueshift of the C iv line, finding no redshift evolution in the emission-line ratios by comparing our high-redshift quasars to lower redshift (2.0 < z < 5.0) results presented in the literature. Using cloudy-based locally optimally emitting cloud photoionization model relations between metallicity and emission-line flux ratios, we find the observable properties of the broad emission lines to be consistent with emission from gas clouds with metallicity that are at least 2–4 times solar. Our high-redshift measurements also confirm that the blueshift of the C iv emission line is correlated with its equivalent width, which influences line ratios normalized against C iv. When accountingmore »for the C iv blueshift, we find that the rest-frame UV emission-line flux ratios do not correlate appreciably with the black hole mass or bolometric luminosity.

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  6. We present bolometric luminosities, black hole masses, and Eddington ratios for 42 luminous quasars at z  ≳ 6 using high signal-to-noise ratio VLT/X-shooter spectra, acquired as part of the enlarged ESO Large Programme XQR-30 . In particular, we derived the bolometric luminosities from the rest-frame 3000 Å luminosities using a bolometric correction from the literature, as well as the black hole masses by modeling the spectral regions around the C  IV 1549 Å and the Mg  II 2798 Å emission lines, with scaling relations calibrated in the Local Universe. We find that the black hole masses derived from both emission lines are in the same range and the scatter of the measurements agrees with expectations from the scaling relations. The Mg  II -derived masses are between ∼(0.8−12) ×10 9   M ⊙ and the derived Eddington ratios are within ∼0.13−1.73, with a mean (median) of 0.84(0.72). By comparing the total sample of quasars at z  > 5.8, from this work and from the literature, to a bolometric luminosity distribution-matched sample at z  ∼ 1.5, we find that quasars at high redshift host slightly less massive black holes, which accrete slightly more rapidly than those at lower z , with a difference in themore »mean Eddington ratios of the two samples of ∼0.27. These findings are in agreement with the results of recent works in the literature.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 1, 2024
  7. 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 accretionmore »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.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024
  8. ABSTRACT The final phase of the reionization process can be probed by rest-frame UV absorption spectra of quasars at z ≳ 6, shedding light on the properties of the diffuse intergalactic medium within the first Gyr of the Universe. The ESO Large Programme ‘XQR-30: the ultimate XSHOOTER legacy survey of quasars at z ≃ 5.8–6.6’ dedicated ∼250 h of observations at the VLT to create a homogeneous and high-quality sample of spectra of 30 luminous quasars at z ∼ 6, covering the rest wavelength range from the Lyman limit to beyond the Mg ii emission. Twelve quasar spectra of similar quality from the XSHOOTER archive were added to form the enlarged XQR-30 sample, corresponding to a total of ∼350 h of on-source exposure time. The median effective resolving power of the 42 spectra is R ≃ 11 400 and 9800 in the VIS and NIR arm, respectively. The signal-to-noise ratio per 10 km s−1 pixel ranges from ∼11 to 114 at λ ≃ 1285 Å rest frame, with a median value of ∼29. We describe the observations, data reduction, and analysis of the spectra, together with some first results based on the E-XQR-30 sample. New photometry in the H and K bands are provided formore »the XQR-30 quasars, together with composite spectra whose characteristics reflect the large absolute magnitudes of the sample. The composite and the reduced spectra are released to the community through a public repository, and will enable a range of studies addressing outstanding questions regarding the first Gyr of the Universe.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 23, 2024
  9. Abstract The first stars were born from chemically pristine gas. They were likely massive, and thus they rapidly exploded as supernovae, enriching the surrounding gas with the first heavy elements. In the Local Group, the chemical signatures of the first stellar population were identified among low-mass, long-lived, very metal-poor ([Fe/H] < −2) stars, characterized by high abundances of carbon over iron ([C/Fe] > +0.7): the so-called carbon-enhanced metal-poor stars. Conversely, a similar carbon excess caused by first-star pollution was not found in dense neutral gas traced by absorption systems at different cosmic time. Here we present the detection of 14 very metal-poor, optically thick absorbers at redshift z ∼ 3–4. Among these, 3 are carbon-enhanced and reveal an overabundance with respect to Fe of all the analyzed chemical elements (O, Mg, Al, and Si). Their relative abundances show a distribution with respect to [Fe/H] that is in very good agreement with those observed in nearby very metal-poor stars. All the tests we performed support the idea that these C-rich absorbers preserve the chemical yields of the first stars. Our new findings suggest that the first-star signatures can survive in optically thick but relatively diffuse absorbers, which are not sufficiently densemore »to sustain star formation and hence are not dominated by the chemical products of normal stars.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2024
  10. ABSTRACT Intervening C iv absorbers are key tracers of metal-enriched gas in galaxy haloes over cosmic time. Previous studies suggest that the C iv cosmic mass density ($\Omega _{\rm C \, \small {IV}}$) decreases slowly over 1.5 $\lesssim \, z\lesssim$ 5 before declining rapidly at z ≳ 5, but the cause of this downturn is poorly understood. We characterize the $\Omega _{\rm C \, \small {IV}}$ evolution over 4.3 ≲ z ≲ 6.3 using 260 absorbers found in 42 XSHOOTER spectra of z ∼ 6 quasars, of which 30 come from the ESO Large Program XQR-30. The large sample enables us to robustly constrain the rate and timing of the downturn. We find that $\Omega _{\rm C \, \small {IV}}$ decreases by a factor of 4.8 ± 2.0 over the ∼300 Myr interval between z ∼ 4.7 and ∼5.8. The slope of the column density (log N) distribution function does not change, suggesting that C iv absorption is suppressed approximately uniformly across 13.2 ≤ log N/cm−2 < 15.0. Assuming that the carbon content of galaxy haloes evolves as the integral of the cosmic star formation rate density (with some delay due to stellar lifetimes and outflow travel times), we show that chemical evolution alone could plausibly explain the fast decline in $\Omega _{\rm C \, \small {IV}}$ overmore »4.3 ≲ z ≲ 6.3. However, the C iv/C ii ratio decreases at the highest redshifts, so the accelerated decline in $\Omega _{\rm C \, \small {IV}}$ at z ≳ 5 may be more naturally explained by rapid changes in the gas ionization state driven by evolution of the UV background towards the end of hydrogen reionization.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 2, 2024