Highly Ionized High-Velocity Clouds Toward PKS 2155-304 and Markarian 509

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To gain insight into four highly ionized high-velocity clouds (HVCs) discovered by Sembach et al., we have analyzed data from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE) for the PKS 2155-304 and Mrk 509 sight lines. We measure strong absorption in O VI and column densities of multiple ionization stages of silicon (Si II, III, and IV) and carbon (C II, III, and IV). We interpret this ionization pattern as a multiphase medium that contains both collisionally ionized and photoionized gas. Toward PKS 2155-304, for HVCs at -140 and -270 km s-1, respectively, we measure logN(O VI) = 13.80 ± 0.03 and logN(O VI) = 13.56 ± 0.06; from Lyman series absorption, we find logN(H I) = 16.37 -0.14+0.22 and 15.23-0.22+0.38. The presence of high-velocity O VI spread over a broad (100 km s-1) profile, together with large amounts of low-ionization species, is difficult to reconcile with the low densities, ne ≈ 5 × 10-6 cm-3, in the collisional/photoionization models of Nicastro et al., although the HVCs show a similar relation in N(Si IV)/N(C IV) versus N(C II)/N(C IV) to that of high-z intergalactic clouds. Our results suggest that the high-velocity O VI in these absorbers does not necessarily trace the warm-hot intergalactic medium but instead may trace HVCs with low total hydrogen column density. We propose that the broad high-velocity O VI absorption arises from shock ionization, at bow shock interfaces produced from infalling clumps of gas with velocity shear. The similar ratios of high ions for HVC Complex C and these highly ionized HVCs suggest a common production mechanism in the Galactic halo.