Synthetic Large-Scale Galactic Filaments – on their Formation, Physical Properties, and Resemblance to Observations

Catherine Zucker, Rowan Smith, Alyssa Goodman

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Using a population of large-scale filaments extracted from an AREPO simulation of a Milky Waylike galaxy, we seek to understand the extent to which observed large-scale filament properties (with lengths & 100 pc) can be explained by galactic dynamics alone. From an observer’s perspective in the disk of the galaxy, we identify filaments forming purely due to galactic dynamics, without the effects of feedback or local self-gravity. We find that large-scale Galactic filaments are intrinsically rare, and we estimate that at maximum approximately one filament per kpc2 should be identified in projection, when viewed from the direction of our Sun in the Milky Way. In this idealized scenario, we find filaments in both the arm and interarm regions, and hypothesize that the former may be due to gas compression in the spiral-potential wells, with the latter due to differential rotation. Using the same analysis pipeline applied previously to observations, we analyze the physical properties of large-scale Galactic filaments, and quantify their sensitivity to projection effects and galactic environment (i.e. whether they lie in the arm or interarm regions). We find that observed “Giant Molecular Filaments” are consistent with being non-self-gravitating structures dominated by galactic dynamics. Straighter, narrower, and denser “Bone-like” filaments, like the paradigmatic Nessie filament, have similar column densities, velocity gradients, and Galactic plane heights (z ≈ 0 pc) to those in our simple model, but additional physical effects (such as feedback and self-gravity) must be invoked to explain their lengths and widths.
Original languageEnglish
Article number186
JournalThe Astrophysical Journal
Issue number2
Early online date18 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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