Abundant molecular gas in tidal dwarf galaxies: On-going galaxy formation

J. Braine, P.A. Duc, U. Lisenfeld, V. Charmandaris, O. Vallejo, S. Leon, E. Brinks

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We investigate the process of galaxy formation as can be observed in the only currently forming galaxies { the so-called Tidal Dwarf Galaxies, hereafter TDGs { through observations of the molecular gas detected via its CO (Carbon Monoxide) emission. These objects are formed of material torn off of the outer parts of a spiral disk due to tidal forces in a collision between two massive galaxies. Molecular gas is a key element in the galaxy formation process, providing the link between a cloud of gas and a bona fide galaxy. We have detected CO in 8 TDGs (two of them have already been published in Braine et al. 2000, hereafter Paper I), with an overall detection rate of 80%, showing that molecular gas is abundant in TDGs, up to a few 108 M . The CO emission coincides both spatially and kinematically with the HI emission, indicating that the molecular gas forms from the atomic hydrogen where the HI column density is high. A possible trend of more evolved TDGs having greater molecular gas masses is observed, in accord with the transformation of HI into H2. Although TDGs share many of the properties of small irregulars, their CO luminosity is much greater (factor 100) than that of standard dwarf galaxies of comparable luminosity. This is most likely a consequence of the higher metallicity (&1/3 solar) of TDGs which makes CO a good tracer of molecular gas. This allows us to study star formation in environments ordinarily inaccessible due to the extreme difficulty of measuring the molecular gas mass. The star formation efficiency, measured by the CO luminosity per H flux, is the same in TDGs and full-sized spirals. CO is likely the best tracer of the dynamics of these objects because some fraction of the HI near the TDGs may be part of the tidal tail and not bound to the TDG. Although uncertainties are large for individual objects, as the geometry is unknown, our sample is now of eight detected objects and we find that the \dynamical" masses of TDGs, estimated from the CO line widths, seem not to be greater than the \visible" masses (HI + H2 + a stellar component). Although higher spatial resolution CO (and HI) observations would help reduce the uncertainties, we find that TDGs require no dark matter, which would make them the only galaxy-sized systems where this is the case. Dark matter in spirals should then be in a halo and not a rotating disk. Most dwarf galaxies are dark matter-rich, implying that they are not of tidal origin. We provide strong evidence that TDGs are self-gravitating entities, implying that we are witnessing the ensemble of processes in galaxy formation: concentration of large amounts of gas in a bound object, condensation of the gas, which is atomic at this point, to form molecular gas and the subsequent star formation from the dense molecular component.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-69
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2001


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