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Slowly breaking waves: the longevity of tidally induced spiral structure

Authors

  • Curtis Struck,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Physics and Astronomy, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50014, USA
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  • Clare L. Dobbs,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Physics, University of Exeter, Stocker Road, Exeter EX4 4QL
    2. Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik, Giessenbachstraße, D-85748 Garching, Germany
    3. Universitats-Sternwarte München, Scheinerstraße 1, D-81679 München, Germany
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  • Jeong-Sun Hwang

    1. Department of Physics and Astronomy, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50014, USA
    2. School of Physics, Korea Institute for Advanced Study, Seoul 130–722, Republic of Korea
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E-mail: curt@iastate.edu (CS); cdobbs@mpe.mpg.de (CLD)

ABSTRACT

We have discovered long-lived waves in two sets of numerical models of fast (marginally bound or unbound) flyby galaxy collisions, carried out independently with two different codes. In neither simulation set are the spirals the result of a collision-induced bar formation. Although there is variation in the appearance of the waves with time, they do not disappear and reform recurrently, as seen in other cases described in the literature. We also present an analytic theory that can account for the wave structure, not as propagating transients, nor as a fixed pattern propagating through the disc. While these waves propagate through the disc, they are mantained by the coherent oscillations initiated by the impulsive disturbance. Specifically, the analytic theory suggests that they are caustic waves in ensembles of stars pursuing correlated epicyclic orbits after the disturbance. This theory is an extension of that developed by Struck and collaborators for colliding ring galaxies.

The models suggest that this type of wave may persist for a couple of Gyr, and galaxy interactions occur on comparable time-scales, so waves produced by the mechanism may be well represented in observed spirals. In particular, this mechanism can account for the tightly wound, and presumably long-lived, spirals seen in some nearby early-type galaxies. These spirals are also likely to be common in groups and clusters, where fast encounters between galaxies occur relatively frequently. However, as the spirals become tightly wound, and evolve to modest amplitudes, they may be difficult to resolve unless they are nearby. None the less, the effect may be one of several processes that result from galaxy harassment, and via wave-enhanced star formation, contributes to the Butcher–Oemler effect.

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