Research @ KICP
April 3, 2009
New insight into the growth of galaxies: Finding cold gas in massive dark matter halos
by Hsiao-Wen Chen and Jean-Rene Gauthier
One of the outstanding questions in galactic cosmology is the detailed process by which galaxies acquire gas from the surrounding intergalactic medium, and how this process varies with galaxy mass and redshift. The rate at which gas is being accreted, and the fraction of hot and cold gas within the dark matter halos of galaxies are key factors in developing a clearer picture of disk and star formation. Numerical simulations that incorporate the complex baryonic physics of gas accretion are just beginning to probe these processes, and techniques for observing cold gas in galactic halos are essential. New observations by KICP scientists, led by faculty member Hsiao-Wen Chen, graduate student Jean-Rene Gauthier and former KICP fellow Jeremy Tinker, have detected the presence of cold gas in the dark matter halos around luminous red galaxies, which are typically ten to one hundred times more massive than the Milky Way. Their data provide critical input for understanding the growth of these large systems, and an important complement to recent observations of cold gas around smaller galaxies.
The cold gas in a dark matter halo, if present, is expected to imprint specific absorption features in the spectrum of a background quasar. The KICP group utilized MgII (2796, 2803 A) absorption doublets as a probe of such cold gas around luminous red galaxies that are at least ten times more massive than the Milky Way. Using analysis techniques developed in earlier work (Tinker & Chen 2008) they find that the two-point cross-correlation function of luminous red galaxies and MgII absorbers displays a strong signal extending to projected distances below 300 kpc, well within the virial radii of these luminous galaxies. This strong cross-correlation amplitude at galaxy-absorber pair separations much smaller than the expected halo size strongly suggests the presence of cold gas in the massive dark matter halos (M ~ 10<sup>13</sup> M<sub>sun</sub>) hosting these galaxies.
Pockets of cold (10<sup>4</sup> K) gas in the halos of massive galaxies could be present via two distinct physical mechanisms: the classical thermal instability argument and a cold stream inflow. In the thermal instability scenario, cold clouds could form within a hot (10<sup>6</sup> K) halo and maintain a pressure equilibrium with the surrounding hotter medium. This leads to the formation of many pockets of cold gas that eventually fall to the center of the halo and fuel star formation in the galactic disc. The total baryonic mass expected to be contained in these pockets in such scenarios is, however, not yet known.
<b>References:</b> <br /><br />- <i><a target='_blank' href='http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/0902.3237'>The Clustering of MgII Absorption Systems at z=0.5 and Detection of Cold Gas in Massive Halos</a></i>, Jean-Rene Gauthier, Hsiao-Wen Chen, Jeremy L. Tinker <br /><br />- <i><a target='_blank' href='http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/0801.2169'>The Baryon Content of Dark Matter Halos: Empirical Constraints from MgII Absorbers</a></i>, Hsiao-Wen Chen, Jeremy L. Tinker <br /><br />- <i><a target='_blank' href='http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/0709.1470'>On the Halo Occupation of Dark Baryons</a></i>, Jeremy L. Tinker, Hsiao-Wen Chen