We investigate the properties of damped Lyman α systems (DLAS) in semi-analytic models, focusing on whether the models can reproduce the kinematic properties of low-ionization metal lines described by Prochaska & Wolfe. We explore a variety of approaches for modelling the radial distribution of the cold neutral gas associated with the galaxies in our models, and find that our results are very sensitive to this ingredient. If we use an approach based on work by Fall & Efstathiou, in which the sizes of the discs are determined by conservation of angular momentum, we find that the majority of the DLAS correspond to a single galactic disc. These models generically fail to reproduce the observed distribution of velocity widths. In alternative models in which the gas discs are considerably more extended, a significant fraction of DLAS arise from lines of sight intersecting multiple gas discs in a common halo. These models produce kinematics that fit the observational data, and also seem to agree well with the results of recent hydrodynamical simulations. Thus we conclude that cold dark matter based models of galaxy formation can be reconciled with the kinematic data, but only at the expense of the standard assumption that DLAS are produced by rotationally supported gas discs whose sizes are determined by conservation of angular momentum. We suggest that the distribution of cold gas at high redshift may be dominated by another process, such as tidal streaming caused by mergers.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science
- Absorption lines - galaxies
- Formation - quasars