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Molecular gas in distant galaxies from ALMA studies


ALMA is now fully operational, and has been observing in early science mode since 2011. The millimetric (mm) and sub-mm domain is ideal to tackle galaxies at high redshift, since the emission peak of the dust at 100 \(\upmu \)m is shifted in the ALMA bands (0.3–1 mm) for \(z=\) 2–9, and the CO lines, stronger at the high-J levels of the ladder, are found all over the 0.3–3 mm range. Pointed surveys and blind deep fields have been observed, and the wealth of data collected reveal a drop at high redshifts (\(z>6\)) of dusty massive objects, although surprisingly active and gas-rich objects have been unveiled through gravitational lensing. The window of the reionization epoch is now wide open, and ALMA has detected galaxies at \(z=8\)–9 mainly in continuum, [CII] and [OIII] lines. Galaxies have a gas fraction increasing steeply with redshift, as \((1+z)^2\), while their star formation efficiency increases also but more slightly, as \((1+z)^{0.6}\) to \((1+z)^1\). Individual object studies have revealed luminous quasars, with black hole masses much higher than expected, clumpy galaxies with resolved star formation rate compatible with the Kennicutt–Schmidt relation, extended cold and dense gas in a circumgalactic medium, corresponding to Lyman-\(\alpha \) blobs, and proto-clusters, traced by their brightest central galaxies.

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Fig. 1

Image reproduced with permission from Genzel et al. (2012), copyright by AAS

Fig. 2

Image reproduced with permission from Scoville et al. (2016), copyright by AAS

Fig. 3

Image reproduced with permission from Tacconi et al. (2018), copyright by AAS

Fig. 4

Images reproduced with permission from Scoville et al. (2017), copyright by AAS

Fig. 5

Image reproduced with permission from Vieira et al. (2013), copyright by Springer

Fig. 6

Image reproduced with permission from Vieira et al. (2013), copyright by Springer

Fig. 7

Image reproduced with permission from Dunlop et al. (2017)

Fig. 8

Image reproduced with permission from Decarli et al. (2016), copyright by AAS

Fig. 9

Image reproduced with permission from ALMA Partnership et al. (2015), copyright by AAS

Fig. 10

Image reproduced with permission from Venemans et al. (2016), copyright by AAS

Fig. 11

Images reproduced with permission from Emonts et al. (2018) and Ginolfi et al. (2017)

Fig. 12


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I thank Paul Ho for inviting me to write this review, and an anonymous referee for constructive comments.

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Correspondence to Françoise Combes.

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Combes, F. Molecular gas in distant galaxies from ALMA studies. Astron Astrophys Rev 26, 5 (2018).

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  • Galaxies
  • Early universe
  • Re-ionization
  • Molecules