Re-ionizing the universe without stars

Michael A. Dopita, Lawrence Krauss, Ralph S. Sutherland, Chiaki Kobayashi, Charles H. Lineweaver

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Recent observations show that the measured rates of star formation in the early universe are insufficient to produce re-ionization, and therefore, another source of ionizing photons is required. In this Letter, we examine the possibility that these can be supplied by the fast accretion shocks formed around the cores of the most massive haloes (10. 5<log M/Mȯ<12) on spatial scales of order 1 kpc. We model the detailed physics of these fast accretion shocks, and apply these to a simple 1-D spherical hydrodynamic accretion model for baryonic infall in dark matter halos with an Einasto density distribution. The escape of UV photons from these halos is delayed by the time taken to reach the critical accretion shock velocity for escape of UV photons; 220 km s-1, and by the time it takes for these photons to ionize the surrounding baryonic matter in the accretion flow. Assuming that in the universe at large the baryonic matter tracks the dark matter, we can estimate the epoch of re-ionization in the case that accretion shocks act alone as the source of UV photons. We find that 50% of the volume (and 5-8% of the mass) of the universe can be ionized by z~7-8. The UV production rate has an uncertainty of a factor of about 5 due to uncertainties in the cosmological parameters controlling the development of large scale structure. Because our mechanism is a steeply rising function of decreasing redshift, this uncertainty translates to a re-ionization redshift uncertainty of less than ±0. 5. We also find that, even without including the UV photon production of stars, re-ionization is essentially complete by z~5. 8. Thus, fast accretion shocks can provide an important additional source of ionizing photons in the early universe.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number345
Pages (from-to)345-352
Number of pages8
JournalAstrophysics and Space Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2011


  • Cosmology: early universe
  • Cosmology: theory
  • Galaxies: formation
  • Galaxies: halos
  • Shock waves
  • Ultraviolet: ISM

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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