Dwarf galaxies, that is galaxies less massive than a few billion solar masses, are expected to be formed through two processes. They might either be the luminous components of small dark matter halos, formed early in the universe when gas fell into the potential well of those halos. These dwarf galaxies are called primordial dwarf galaxies (PDGs) and are expected to be dominated by their dark matter content.
The other formation mechanism is a process observed even in the present-day universe. When two major disk galaxies collide, the gas and the stars in the disks are expelled by tidal forces induced by the encounter to large distances. An example for a very prominent structure that has been created through tidal interactions between disk galaxies is the ‘tail’ that extends to the upper right corner in the figure below. Within this tidal debris, new objects of dwarf galaxy mass form. This is why dwarf galaxies of this second type are called tidal dwarf galaxies, or TDGs.
Thus, TDGs form from the baryonic material in the galactic disks of the progenitor galaxies, but can they also contain dark matter? Even in a disk galaxy with a massive dark matter halo, the vast majority of the dark matter would be located outside the galaxy’s disks. Of the small amount of dark matter within the disk, only a tiny fraction would furthermore be moving in the same direction and would have the same velocity as the stars and the gas in the disks. The vast majority of the dark matter would therefore have different initial conditions regarding its location and motion than the gas and the stars. But during a galaxy collision, only material with similar initial conditions is thrown on similar trajectories by the tidal forces and has a chance of becoming bound to the gravitational field of a forming TDG. The vast majority of the dark matter, having different initial conditions, will therefore be thrown onto different trajectories. While the dark matter on such different trajectories may be able to cross the shallow gravitational field of a TDG, it would do so at a high relative velocity. Therefore, this dark matter cannot become bound to the TDG. As an analogy for an encounter between a TDG and a chunk of dark matter, consider two spaceships orbiting a planet. Even if they orbit the planet at the same altitude, they can only rendezvous if they follow each other on the same orbit. For all other possible choices of orbits (say one is flying to the south and the other is flying to the west), the spaceships would fly past each other quickly if they do not crash.
In summary, it is one of the major characteristics of TDGs that they cannot contain much dark matter, even if their progenitor galaxies did (e.g Bournaud 2010).
If the standard model of cold dark matter is correct, there should be a co-existence of these two types of dwarf galaxies in the universe: dark-matter dominated PDGs and TDGs without significant dark matter content. This is the Dual Dwarf Galaxy Theorem (Kroupa 2012).As they would have very different compositions, the two types should fall into two easily distinguishable groups. The natural question to ask in order to test this prediction is:
Are there really two distinct populations of dwarf galaxies in the universe?
This is investigated in the article “Dwarf elliptical galaxies as ancient tidal dwarf galaxies” by Dabringhausen & Kroupa (2013). The principle of their study is simple: they just had to compare the observed properties of old dwarf galaxies with known tidal dwarf galaxies. For the comparison, they use two properties, which are easy to determine observationally. These properties are:
- The stellar mass, i.e. only the mass in stars, without the mass in gas, dust or dark matter. It can be determined from the luminosity of the system (more stars = brighter object).
- The projected half-light radius, which is a measure of how extended the system is.
There are extensive catalogs listing these two properties for so-called pressure-supported systems, i.e. systems of stars in which the stars move on chaotic orbits (in contrast to the ordered rotation of disc galaxies). The following plot shows these data points.
These objects include globular clusters (GCs), ultra-compact dwarf galaxies (UCDs), massive elliptical galaxies (nEs), and dwarf elliptical galaxies (dEs). The first two types of objects (green points) appear to be free of dark matter, while the second two (red points) are generally assumed to sit in dark matter halos. The study of Dabringhausen & Kroupa is particularly interested in the dEs, as these are in the mass- and size-range of observed TDGs, but are generally assumed to be PDGs.
Adding Tidal Dwarf Galaxies
For a meaningful comparison, the properties of these dEs have to be compared with those of known TDGs. To be confident that an object is a TDG, it has to be associated with interacting galaxies (another possibility is to look at numerical simulations of galaxy collisions and extract the properties of TDGs formed in those models). However, this gives rise to a complication: TDGs associated with a pair of interacting galaxies are young, many of them are still forming some stars and such young TDGs can contain a lot of gas. The dEs, in contrast, are old systems without gas. So the observed properties of the young TDGs have to be aged before they can be compared to the dEs. As the TDGs age, they will loose their gas. The paper lists three possible processes:
- The gas is converted into stars.
- The gas is removed because the feedback of massive stars in the TDG heat it.
- The gas can be removed through ram-pressure stripping as the TDG moves through the intergalactic medium.
Because those gas-removal processes happen slowly, their major effect on the TDG properties is an increase of the system’s half-light radius: as (gas) mass is lost, the TDG will be less bound and the distribution of stars will expand. This allowed Dabringhausen & Kroupa (2013) to estimate where aged TDGs would show up in the figure:
The TDGs (blue symbols) fit in quite nicely with the dEs. The lower points on the error bars represent the TDG properties as observed, i.e. still young. Their radii are a lower limit: the TDGs cannot shrink as they slowly loose their gas. The upper end of the error bars assumes that most of the TDG’s mass, 75% to be precise, has been lost. This coincides nicely with the upper end of the dE distribution, too. There is in principle no reason why a TDG couldn’t loose even more of its initial mass, but such TDGs are likely to be destroyed very easily (see further below).
So, the TDGs and the dEs populate the same region in the figure. What does this tell us?
Due to their different composition (PDGs being dark matter dominated, TDGs being dark matter free), one would expect to observe two distinguishable groups of dwarf galaxies. The opposite is found: dEs populate only one region in the plot, and the same region is covered by (aged) TDGs. Consequently, this suggests that the observed dEs are in fact old TDGs. But then there is no room for primordial, dark matter-dominated dwarf galaxies.
This finding is also consistent with the expected numbers of TDGs in the universe. Numerical simulations of close encounters between possible progenitor galaxies show that on average one or two long-lived, massive TDGs are created per such encounter (see Bournaud & Duc 2006). By considering the total number of encounters between possible progenitor galaxies until the present day, Okazaki & Taniguchi (2000) found that such a rate of TDG-production would already be enough to account for all dEs in the Universe.
The black lines in the second plot give another hint at a connection between dEs and TDGs. Because TDGs are formed by colliding galaxies, many of the TDGs will end up as satellite galaxies. When such satellites orbit around a much more massive host galaxy, they will be affected by tidal forces. If the satellite is too extended, its own gravity is not strong enough to keep it bound against the tidal forces of the host. The exact radius depends on the masses of the host and the satellite, as well as the satellite’s orbit. The black lines in the plot give an impression of the tidal radius of satellite galaxies, assuming they orbit at a typical satellite distance of 100 kpc around different host galaxies. For the lowermost line, the host is assumed to be heavy, while the uppermost line corresponds to a rather light host. Above a given line, a satellite of a galaxy with the corresponding mass is not stable anymore, but will be disrupted by tidal forces. So if a TDG loses so much mass that it expands above this line, it will be destroyed and vanish from the plot. Thus, if the dEs are indeed TDGs, the position and slope of the cutoff at large half-light radii is easily explained.
The results of Dabringhausen & Kroupa (2013), if confirmed by future studies, suggest that there is only one type of dwarf galaxies in the Universe. Virtually every galaxy that is classified as an old dwarf galaxy, i.e. a dE, would be an aged TDG which originated from the debris of interacting galaxies. We emphasize also that TDGs have been shown to lie on the baryonic Tully-Fisher Relation (Gentile et al. 2007), which they cannot if this relation is defined by dark matter. These results are very problematic for cold dark-matter based models, which predict that in addition to TDGs a plethora of primordial dwarf galaxies with a completely different composition exists as a second group of dwarf galaxies. However, the result of Dabringhausen & Kroupa (2013) fits in nicely with the peculiarities of the Milky Way (e.g. Pawlowski et al. 2012) and Andromeda (Ibata et al. 2013) satellite galaxies: they co-orbit within thin planes, which is expected for a population of TDGs. But again this distribution is at odds with the predicted distributions of primordial galaxies.
When it comes to their properties and distribution, tidal dwarf galaxies seem to develop a lead over dark-matter dominated, primordial dwarf galaxies.