Mid-Infrared Selection of Active Galactic Nuclei with the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer. II. Properties of WISE-Selected Active Galactic Nuclei in the NDWFS Boötes Field
Roberto J. Assef, Daniel Stern, Christopher S. Kochanek, Andrew W. Blain, Mark Brodwin, Michael J. I. Brown, Emilio Donoso, Peter R. M. Eisenhardt, Buell T. Jannuzi, Thomas H. Jarrett, S. Adam Stanford, Chao-Wei Tsai, Jingwen Wu, Lin Yan
Extremely metal-poor gas at a redshift of 7
In typical astrophysical environments, the abundance of heavy elements ranges from 0.001 to 2 times the solar concentration. Lower abundances have been seen in select stars in the Milky Way’s halo and in two quasar absorption systems at redshift z=3. These are widely interpreted as relics from the early universe, when all gas possessed a primordial chemistry. Before now there have been no direct abundance measurements from the first Gyr after the Big Bang, when the earliest stars began synthesizing elements. Here we report observations of hydrogen and heavy element absorption in a quasar spectrum at z=7.04, when the universe was just 772 Myr old (5.6% its present age). We detect a large column of neutral hydrogen but no corresponding heavy elements, limiting the chemical abundance to less than 1/10,000 the solar level if the gas is in a gravitationally bound protogalaxy, or less than 1/1,000 solar if it is diffuse and unbound. If the absorption is truly intergalactic, it would imply that the universe was neither ionized by starlight nor chemically enriched in this neighborhood at z~7. If it is gravitationally bound, the inferred abundance is too low to promote efficient cooling, and the system would be a viable site to form the predicted but as-yet unobserved massive population III stars in the early universe.