Title

Highly Ionized High-Velocity Clouds: Hot Intergalactic Medium or Galactic Halo?

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

4-10-2005

Description

We use spectroscopic data from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE) to study the wide range of ionization states of the "highly ionized high-velocity clouds" (HVCs). Studied extensively in O VI absorption, these clouds are usually assumed to be infalling gas in the Galactic halo at distances less than 50 kpc. An alternative model attributes the O VI (and O VII X-ray absorption) to cosmological structures of low-density, shock-heated intergalactic gas, distributed over 1-3 Mpc surrounding the Milky Way. The latter interpretation is unlikely, owing to the enormous required mass of gas (4 × 1012 M⊙). Our detection, in 9 of 12 sight lines, of low-ionization stages (C II/III/IV; Si II/III/IV) at similar high velocities as O vi requires gas densities far above that (nH ≈ 5 × 10-6 cm-3) associated with the warm-hot intergalactic medium (WHIM). These HVCs are probably cooling, multiphase gas in the Galactic halo, bow shocks, and interfaces between clouds falling through a hot, rotating gaseous halo. The velocity segregation of these HVCs in Galactic coordinates is consistent with a pattern in which infalling clouds reflect the sense of Galactic rotation, with peculiar velocities superposed.

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