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An improved measurement of the flux distribution of the Lyα forest in QSO absorption spectra: the effect of continuum fitting, metal contamination and noise properties

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Based on data taken from ESO archive obtained with UVES at VLT, Paranal, Chile.

E-mail: tkim@aip.de

ABSTRACT

We have performed an extensive Voigt profile analysis of the neutral hydrogen (H i) and metal absorption present in a sample of 18 high-resolution, high signal-to-noise ratio quasi-stellar object (QSO) spectra observed with the Very Large Telescope Ultraviolet and Visual Echelle Spectrograph. We use this analysis to separate the metal contribution from the H i absorption and present an improved measurement of the flux probability distribution function (PDF) due to H i absorption alone at z〉= 2.07, 2.52 and 2.94. The flux PDF is sensitive to the continuum fit in the normalized flux range 0.8 < F < 1.0 and to metal absorption at 0.2 < F < 0.8. Our new measurements of the flux PDF due to H i absorption alone are systematically lower at 0.2 < F < 0.8 by up to 30 per cent compared to the widely used measurement of McDonald et al., based on a significantly smaller sample of Keck High Resolution Echelle Spectrometer data. This discrepancy is probably due to a combination of our improved removal of the metal absorption and cosmic variance, since variations in the flux PDF between different lines-of-sight are large. The H i effective optical depth τeffi at 1.7 < z < 4 is best fit with a single power law, inline image, in good agreement with previous measurements from comparable data. As also found previously, the effect of noise on the flux distribution is not significant in high-resolution, high signal-to-noise ratio data.

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