The origin of cold gas in giant elliptical galaxies and its role in fuelling radio-mode AGN feedback
Publication date: 25 February 2014
Authors: Werner, N., et al.
Journal: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Copyright: The Royal Astronomical Society
Published online 24 February 2014
The nature and origin of the cold interstellar medium (ISM) in early-type galaxies are still a matter of debate, and understanding the role of this component in galaxy evolution and in fuelling the central supermassive black holes requires more observational constraints. Here, we present a multiwavelength study of the ISM in eight nearby, X-ray and optically bright, giant elliptical galaxies, all central dominant members of relatively low-mass groups. Using far-infrared spectral imaging with the Herschel Photodetector Array Camera & Spectrometer, we map the emission of cold gas in the cooling lines of [C II] 157 μm, [O I] 63 μm and [O Ib] 145 μm. Additionally, we present H-alpha+[N II] imaging of warm ionized gas with the Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) telescope, and a study of the thermodynamic structure of the hot X-ray emitting plasma with Chandra. All systems with extended H-alpha emission in our sample (6/8 galaxies) display significant [C II] line emission indicating the presence of reservoirs of cold gas. This emission is cospatial with the optical H-alpha+[N II] emitting nebulae and the lowest entropy soft X-ray emitting plasma. The entropy profiles of the hot galactic atmospheres show a clear dichotomy, with the systems displaying extended emission-line nebulae having lower entropies beyond r >= 1 kpc than the cold-gas-poor systems. We show that while the hot atmospheres of the cold-gas-poor galaxies are thermally stable outside of their innermost cores, the atmospheres of the cold-gas-rich systems are prone to cooling instabilities. This provides considerable weight to the argument that cold gas in giant ellipticals is produced chiefly by cooling from the hot phase. We show that cooling instabilities may develop more easily in rotating systems and discuss an alternative condition for thermal instability for this case.
[Remainder of abstract truncated due to character limitations]