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Astron. Astrophys. 324, 1-10 (1997)

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Evolution of a hot primordial gas in the presence of an ionizing ultraviolet background: instabilities, bifurcations, and the formation of Lyman limit systems

Jan P. Mücket and Ronald E. Kates

1 Astrophysikalisches Institut Potsdam, An der Sternwarte 16, D-14482 Potsdam, Germany

Received 22 August 1996 / Accepted 24 January 1997


The time evolution of thermal and thermo-reactive instabilities of primordial gas in the presence of ionizing UV radiation is studied. We obtain conditions (depending on density, temperature, and UV radiation intensity) favorable for the formation of a multi-component medium. Nonlinear effects, especially those attributable to opacity, can play an important role. In certain parameter regimes, dramatic, rapid evolution of ionization states away from ionization equilibrium may occur even if system control parameters evolve slowly and the system starts in or near ionization equilibrium. Mathematically, these rapid changes may best be understood as manifestations of bifurcations in the solution surface corresponding to ionization equilibrium. The astrophysical significance of these instabilities is that they constitute a nongravitational mechanism (thermo-reactive instability) for decoupling isolated spatial regions with moderate initial fluctuations from their surroundings, even under the influence of heating processes due to ionizing UV radiation. In particular, isolated, decoupled regions with relatively high neutral hydrogen density may result, and these could be associated with Lyman alpha clouds of high column density or with Lyman limit systems.

Key words: cosmology: theory – large-scale of the universe – galaxies: formation – instabilities

Send offprint requests to: J. Mücket

© European Southern Observatory (ESO) 1997

Online publication: May 26, 1998