Extremely strong DLAs at high redshift: gas cooling and H2 formation
We present a spectroscopic investigation with the Very Large Telescope/X-shooter of seven candidate extremely strong damped Lyman-α absorption systems [ESDLAs, N(H I) ≥ 5 × 1021 cm-2] observed along quasar sightlines. We confirm the extremely high column densities, albeit slightly (0.1 dex) lower than the original ESDLA definition for four systems. We measured low-ionization metal abundances and dust extinction for all systems. For two systems, we also found strong associated H22 absorption logN(H2)(cm−2)=18.16±0.03logN(H2)(cm−2)=18.16±0.03 and 19.28 ± 0.06 at z = 3.26 and 2.25 towards J2205+1021 and J2359+1354, respectively, while for the remaining five we measured conservative upper limits on the H22 column densities of typically logN(H2)(cm−2)<17.3logN(H2)(cm−2)<17.3. The increased H2 detection rate (10-55 per cent at 68 per cent confidence level) at high H I column density compared with the overall damped Lyman-α population (~5-10 per cent) confirms previous works. We find that these seven ESDLAs have similar observed properties as those previously studied towards quasars and γ-ray burst afterglows, suggesting they probe inner regions of galaxies. We use the abundance of ionized carbon at the excited fine-structure level to calculate the cooling rates through the C II λ158 μm emission, and compare them with the cooling rates from damped Lyman-α systems in the literature. We find that the cooling rate distribution of ESDLAs also presents the same bimodality as previously observed for the general (mostly lower H I column density) damped Lyman-α population.