The Milky Way Galaxy “Is Embedded in a Massive Dark-Matter Halo Spinning Off Dark Satellites”





Around large galaxies, such as the Milky Way, dark matter sub-halos are large enough to host enough gas and dust to form small galaxies on their own, and some of these galactic companions, known as satellite galaxies, can be observed. These satellite galaxies can orbit for billions of years around their host before a potential merger. Mergers cause the central galaxy to add large amount of gas and stars, triggering violent episodes of new star formation known as starbursts due to the excess gas brought in by the companion. The host's shape or morphology can also be disturbed due to the gravitational interaction.

One of the main predictions of the current model of the creation of structures in the universe, known at the Lambda Cold Dark Matter model, is that galaxies are embedded in these extended and massive halos of dark matter that are surrounded by many thousands of smaller sub-halos also made from dark matter.

Smaller halos form dwarf galaxies, which at the same time will be orbited by even smaller satellite sub-halos of dark matter which are now far too tiny to have gas or stars in them. These dark satellites therefore are invisible to telescopes, but readily appear in theoretical models run in computer simulations. A direct observation of their interaction with their host galaxies is required to prove their existence.

Laura Sales, an assistant professor at the University of California, Riverside's Department of Physics and Astronomy, collaborated with Tjitske Starkenburg and Amina Helmi, both of the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute in The Netherlands, to present a novel analysis of computer simulations, based on theoretical models, that study the interaction of a dwarf galaxy with a dark satellite.

The findings were outlined in a just-published paper, "Dark influences II: gas and star formation in minor mergers of dwarf galaxies with dark satellites," in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The researchers found that during a dark satellite's closest approach to a dwarf galaxy, through gravity it compresses the gas in the dwarf, triggering significant episodes of starbursts. These star forming episodes may last for several billions of years, depending on the mass, orbit and concentration of the dark satellite.

The image below shows the disk of our Milky Way galaxy, surrounded by a faint halo of old stars. Hubble Space Telescope measurements of 13 halo stars' motion indicate the possible presence of a shell in the halo, which may have formed from the accretion of a dwarf galaxy. (NASA, ESA and A. Field (STScI).




This scenario predicts that many of the dwarf galaxies that we readily observe today should be forming stars at a higher rate than expected –or should be experiencing a starburst– which is exactly what telescope observations have found.

Furthermore, similarly to mergers between more massive galaxies, the interaction between the dwarf galaxy and the dark satellite triggers morphological disturbances in the dwarf, which can completely change its structure from mainly disk-shaped to a spherical/elliptical system. This mechanism also offers an explanation to the origin of isolated spheroidal dwarf galaxies, a puzzle that has remained unsolved for several decades.

The image at the top of the page is the combined observations from multiple telescopes of Henize 2-10, a dwarf starburst galaxy located about 30 million light years from Earth, that has provided astronomers with a detailed new look at how galaxy and black hole formation may have occured in the early Universe. This image shows optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope in red, green and blue, X-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory in purple, and radio data from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array in yellow. A compact X-ray source at the center of the galaxy coincides with a radio source, giving evidence for an actively growing supermassive black hole with a mass of about one million times that of the sun.

Stars are forming in Henize 2-10 at a prodigious rate, giving the star clusters in this galaxy their blue appearance. This combination of a burst of star formation and a massive black hole is analogous to conditions in the early Universe. Since Henize 2-10 does not contain a significant bulge of stars in its center, these results show that supermassive black hole growth may precede the growth of bulges in galaxies. This differs from the relatively nearby Universe where the growth of galaxy bulges and supermassive black holes appears to occur in parallel.

The Daily Galaxy via University of California-Riverside

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