A diffuse tidal dwarf galaxy destined to fade out as a "dark galaxy"

Román, Javier; Jones, Michael G.; Montes, Mireia; Verdes-Montenegro, Lourdes; Garrido, Julián; Sánchez, Susana
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Astronomy and Astrophysics

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We have explored the properties of a peculiar object detected in deep optical imaging and located at the tip of an H I tail emerging from Hickson Compact Group 16. Using multiband photometry from infrared to ultraviolet, we were able to constrain its stellar age to 58‒9+22 Myr with a rather high metallicity of [Fe/H] = ‒0.16‒0.41+0.43 for its stellar mass of M⋆ = 4.2 × 106 M⊙, a typical signature of tidal dwarf galaxies. The structural properties of this object are similar to those of diffuse galaxies, with a round and featureless morphology, a large effective radius (reff = 1.5 kpc), and a low surface brightness (⟨μg⟩eff = 25.6 mag arcsec‒2). Assuming that the object is dynamically stable and able to survive in the future, its fading in time via the aging of its stellar component will make it undetectable in optical observations in just ∼2 Gyr of evolution, even in the deepest current or future optical surveys. Its high H I mass, M(HI) = 3.9 × 108 M⊙, and future undetectable stellar component will make the object match the observational properties of dark galaxies, that is, dark matter halos that failed to turn gas into stars. Our work presents further observational evidence of the feasibility of H I tidal features becoming fake dark galaxies; it also shows the impact of stellar fading, particularly in high metallicity systems such as tidal dwarfs, in hiding aged stellar components beyond detection limits in optical observations.
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