The Milky Way halo as a QSO absorption-line system. New results from an HST/STIS absorption-line catalogue of Galactic high-velocity clouds
We use archival UV absorption-line data from HST/STIS to statistically analyse the absorption characteristics of the high-velocity clouds (HVCs) in the Galactic halo towards more than 40 extragalactic background sources. We determine absorption covering fractions of low- and intermediate ions (OI, CII, SiIII, MgII, FeII, SiIII, CIV, and SiIV) in the range fc = 0.20 - 0.70. For detailed analysis we concentrate on SiII absorption components in HVCs, for which we investigate the distribution of column densities, b-values, and radial velocities. Combining information for SiII and MgII, and using a geometrical HVC model we investigate the contribution of HVCs to the absorption cross section of strong MgII absorbers in the local Universe. We estimate that the Galactic HVCs would contribute on average ~52 % to the total strong MgII cross section of the Milky Way, if our Galaxy were to be observed from an exterior vantage point. We further estimate that the mean projected covering fraction of strong MgII absorption in the Milky Way halo and disc from an exterior vantage point is fc(sMgII) = 0.31 for a halo radius of R = 61 kpc. These numbers, together with the observed number density of strong MgII absorbers at low redshift, indicate that the contribution of infalling gas clouds (i.e., HVC analogues) in the halos of Milky Way-type galaxies to the cross section of strong MgII absorbers is <34 %. These findings are in line with the idea that outflowing gas (e.g., produced by galactic winds) in the halos of more actively star-forming galaxies dominate the absorption-cross section of strong MgII absorbers in the local Universe.