Central powering of the largest Lyman-αnebula is revealed by polarized radiation

Matthew Hayes, Claudia Scarlata, Brian Siana

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High-redshift Lyman-α(Lyα) blobs are extended, luminous but rare structures that seem to be associated with the highest peaks in the matter density of the Universe. Their energy output and morphology are similar to those of powerful radio galaxies, but the source of the luminosity is unclear. Some blobs are associated with ultraviolet or infrared bright galaxies, suggesting an extreme starburst event or accretion onto a central black hole. Another possibility is gas that is shock-excited by supernovae. But not all blobs are associated with galaxies, and these ones may instead be heated by gas falling into a dark-matter halo. The polarization of the Lyαemission can in principle distinguish between these options, but a previous attempt to detect this signature returned a null detection. Here we report observations of polarized Lyαfrom the blob LAB1 (ref. 2). Although the central region shows no measurable polarization, the polarized fraction (P) increases to 1/420 per cent at a radius of 45-kiloparsecs, forming an almost complete polarized ring. The detection of polarized radiation is inconsistent with the in situ production of Lyαphotons, and we conclude that they must have been produced in the galaxies hosted within the nebula, and re-scattered by neutral hydrogen.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)304-307
Number of pages4
Issue number7360
StatePublished - Aug 18 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements We thank P. Ogle and J. Colbert for valuable suggestions about polarimetric observations; N. Panagia and T. Jones for comments on the manuscript; and D. Schaerer, N. Scoville, C. Lidman, A. Dey, M. Prescott and P. Lynam for discussions. This work was based on observations made with European Southern Observatory telescopes at the Paranal Observatory under programme ID 084.A-0954. M.H. was supported in part by the Swiss National Science Foundation, and also received support from Agence Nationale de la Recherche (reference ANR-09-BLAN-0234-01).


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