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New Astronomy

Gravitational Lensing by Damped Ly-alpha Absorbers

A. Smette1, J.-F. Claeskens2,* and J. Surdej2,3,**,***

1 Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, Postbus 800, NL-9700 AV Groningen, The Netherlands
2 Institut d'Astrophysique et de Géophysique - Université de Liège, Avenue de Cointe 5, 4000 Liège, Belgium
3 Space Telescope Science Institute, 3700 San Martin Drive, Baltimore MD 21218, USA

* Aspirant FNRS, Belgium
** Presently member of the Astrophysics Division, Space Science Department of the European Space Agency
*** Directeur de Recherches FNRS, Belgium


     Assuming that (i) damped Ly- absorbers (DLAs) arise in present-day-like spiral galaxies which are immersed in isothermal dark matter halos, (ii) that the galaxies obey the Tully-Fisher /* = (L/L*)1/TF and the Holmberg RL/R* = (L/L*)H relations, and (iii) that they follow the Schechter luminosity distribution, we describe how their observed number density (dN/dz), distribution of column density (f(N)) as well as inferred cosmological density of HI (HI) derived from DLA surveys are affected by gravitational lensing (GL). The 'by-pass' effect causes the lines-of-sight (LOSs) towards background QSOs to avoid the central parts of galaxies and reduces their effective cross-section for absorption; the 'amplification bias' leads observers to select QSOs whose LOSs preferentially cross galaxies close to their Einstein radius. As a consequence, the determination of the quantities dN/dz, f(N)) and HI from DLA surveys does not only depend on the redshift z and luminosity L of galaxies respondible for the absorbers but also on the column density profile of HI within the galaxies and on the redshift zq and magnitude bq of the background QSOs.
For most of the existing surveys using bq  19 QSOs, the amplification bias dominates the combined effect resulting in a slight overestimate of dN/dz, f(N)) and HI. We mainly find that observational stategies presently used to produce high-z DLA surveys result in avoiding the signature of significant GL effects: following our model, we determine that an overestimate of HI by more than 10% is unlikely for the z > 1.7 existing surveys, but may reach ~35% for the low redshift ones.
However, we show that, in the absence of extinction by dust and micro-lensing effects, surveys ideally designed to enhance GL effects, i.e. to search for DLAs at z ~ 0.5 in front of very bright (bq ~ 16), high-z (zq > 1) QSOs, may lead 1) to overestimate by up to ~90% the number of DLAs per unit redshift; 2) to bias the survey towards high HI column density systems so that it could contain up to 4 times as many such sysems, thus 3) to overestimate by up to ~170% the cosmological density of gas associated with those DLAs. Identification of the galaxies respondible for the DLAs may be severely biased towards luminous galaxies if 2/TF - H > 0; this latter effect is greatly increased for logNHI > 21 DLAs.
Hence, GL effects on the quantities derived from surveys for z~0.5 DLAs are of the same order, but of opposite direction, as the effects of extinction by dust (cf. Fall & Pei, 1993 [ApJ, 402,479]). However, the GL and dust extinction effects do not compensate each other: combining them in a consistent way is necessary to interpret existing DLA surveys. Furthermore, the effects due to micro-lensing shoul be simultaneously taken into account. We intend to report the results on the complex interplay between macro-lensing, micro-lensing and dust in a subsequent paper.
We briefly present statistical tests specifically designed to check whether GL affects existing DLA surveys, and assuming that extinction by dust is negligible. We only find indications of GL effects for the z < 1 ones which, if confirmed, might even be stronger than predicted by our model.
We show that an independent work on the same subject by Bartelmann & Loeb (1996) [ApJ, 457,529] incorrectly treats the inclination effects for the intervening galaxies, thus undermining some of their main results and conclusions.

Key Words
Galaxies: evolution; Gravitational lensing; Quasars: absorption lines

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