Where are the missing cosmic metals?

Andrea Ferrara, Evan Scannapieco, Jacqueline Bergeron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


The majority of the heavy elements produced by stars 2 billion years after the big bang (redshift z ≈ 3) are presently undetected at those epochs. We propose a solution to this cosmic "missing metals" problem in which such elements are stored in gaseous halos produced by supernova explosions around star-forming galaxies. By using data from the ESO VLT Large Program, we find that (1) only 5%-9% of the produced metals reside in the cold phase, the rest being found in the hot (T = 105.8-106. 4 K) phase, and (2) 1%-6% (3%-30%) of the observed C IV (O VI) is in the hot phase. We conclude that at z ≳ 3, more than 90% of the metals produced during the star formation history can be placed in a hot phase of the intergalactic medium (IGM), without violating any observational constraint. The observed galaxy mass-metallicity relation and the IGM and intracluster medium metallicity evolution are also naturally explained by this hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)L37-L40
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 II
StatePublished - Nov 20 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Galaxies: stellar content
  • Intergalactic medium
  • Stars: early-type
  • Supernovae: general

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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