In the low-density intergalactic medium that gives rise to the Lyman α (Lyα) forest, gas temperature and density are tightly correlated. The velocity scale of thermal broadening and the Hubble flow across the gas Jeans scale are of similar magnitude (HλJ∼σth). To separate the effects of gas pressure support and thermal broadening on the Lyα forest, we compare spectra extracted from two smoothed particle hydrodynamics simulations evolved with different photoionization heating rates (and thus different Jeans scales) and from the pressureless dark matter distribution, imposing different temperature–density relations on the evolved particle distributions. The dark matter spectra are similar but not identical to those created from the full gas distributions, showing that thermal broadening sets the longitudinal (line-of-sight) scale of the Lyα forest. The turnover scales in the flux power spectrum and flux autocorrelation function are determined mainly by thermal broadening rather than pressure. However, the insensitivity to pressure arises partly from a cancellation effect with a sloped temperature–density relation (T∝ρ0.6 in our simulations): the high-density peaks in the colder, lower pressure simulation are less smoothed by pressure support than in the hotter simulation, and it is this higher density gas that experiences the strongest thermal broadening. Changes in thermal broadening and pressure support have comparably important effects on the flux probability distribution, which responds directly to the gas overdensity distribution rather than the scale on which it is smooth. Tests on a lower resolution simulation (2 × 1443 versus 2 × 2883 particles in a 12.5 h−1 Mpc comoving box) show that our statistical results are converged even at this lower resolution. While thermal broadening generally dominates the longitudinal structure in the Lyα forest, we show in Peeples et al. that pressure support determines the transverse coherence of the forest observed towards close quasar pairs.
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