The impact of small-scale structure on cosmological ionization fronts and reionization

Ilian T. Iliev, Evan Scannapieco, Paul R. Shapiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


The propagation of cosmological ionization fronts during the reionization of the universe is strongly influenced by small-scale gas inhomogeneities due to structure formation. These inhomogeneities include both collapsed minihalos, which are generally self-shielding, and lower density structures, which are not. The minihalos are dense and sufficiently optically thick to trap intergalactic ionization fronts, blocking their path and robbing them of ionizing photons until the minihalo gas is expelled as an evaporative wind. The lower density structures do not trap these fronts, but they can slow them down by increasing the overall recombination rate in the intergalactic medium (IGM). In this paper we study the effects of both types of inhomogeneities, including nonlinear clustering effects, and we find that both IGM clumping and collapsed minihalos have significant yet qualitatively different impacts on reionization. While the number density of minihalos on average increases strongly with time, the density of minihalos inside H II regions around ionizing sources is largely constant. Thus the impact of minihalos is essentially to decrease the number of ionizing photons available to the IGM at all epochs, which is equivalent to a reduction in the luminosity of each source. On the other hand, the effect of IGM clumping increases strongly with time, slowing down reionization and extending it. Thus while the impact of minihalos is largely degenerate with the unknown source efficiency, IGM clumping can help significantly in reconciling the recent observations of cosmic microwave background polarization with quasar absorption spectra at z ∼ 6, which together point to an early but extended reionization epoch.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)491-504
Number of pages14
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 I
StatePublished - May 10 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Cosmology: theory
  • Galaxies: halos
  • Galaxies: high-redshift
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Intergalactic medium
  • Radiative transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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