High-speed collisions, although current in clusters of galaxies, have long been neglected, as they are believed to cause little damages to galaxies except when they are repeated, a process called "harassment." In fact, they are able to produce faint but extended gaseous tails. Such low-mass, starless, tidal debris may become detached and appear as free-floating clouds in the very deep H I surveys that are currently being carried out. We show in this paper that these debris possess the same apparent properties as the so-called dark galaxies, objects originally detected in H I, with no optical counterpart, and presumably dark matter-dominated. We present a numerical model of the prototype of such dark galaxies—VIRGOHI 21—that is able to reproduce its main characteristics: the one-sided tail linking it to the spiral galaxy NGC 4254, the absence of stars, and above all the reversal of the velocity gradient along the tail originally attributed to rotation motions caused by a massive dark matter halo, which we find to be consistent with simple streaming motions plus projection effects. According to our numerical simulations, this tidal debris was expelled 750 Myr ago during a flyby at 1100 km s-1 of NGC 4254 by a massive companion that should now lie at a projected distance of about 400 kpc. A candidate for the intruder is discussed. The existence of galaxies that have never been able to form stars had already been challenged on the basis of theoretical and observational grounds. Tidal collisions, in particular those occurring at high speed, provide a much more simple explanation for the origin of such putative dark galaxies.
The Astrophysical Journal
- Pub Date:
- February 2008
- galaxies: individual: NGC 4254 VIRGOHI 21;
- galaxies: interactions;
- galaxies: kinematics and dynamics;
- 13 pages, 6 figures, accepted for publication in ApJ