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The High Velocity Clouds

Ben Rosenwasser
January 31, 2014
1 Introduction
The High Velocity Clouds are clouds of neutral hydrogen that do not partake in galactic
dierential rotation. These clouds are observed at anomalous velocities on lines of sight
out of the disk; they are either coming or they are going. Three processes are responsible
for their existence at the interface of the Galactic disk and the intergalactic medium. The
rst is the galactic fountain, which is important to the chemical evolution and composition
of the disk. The last two are tidal streams and low-metallicity accretion, both of which are
integral to the understanding of galaxy evolution and cosmology. This report includes a
discussion of the observational parameters and denitions, followed by a summary of the
historical development of HVC research, and concludes with a discussion of the origins.
2 Observational Parameters
2.1 Kinematics
The main idea of high-velocity clouds is that they do not participate in dierential galac-
tic rotation. Historically, HVCs were classied inconsistently by their velocities relative to
the Local Standard of Rest, v
LSR
1
. Wakker (1991) proposed a new way of identifying the
anomalous velocity gas by using its deviation velocity, which is the dierence between
its LSR velocity and the maximum velocity allowed by dierential rotation, that is
v
dev
= v
LSR
v
g,min
if v
LSR
< 0
v
dev
= v
LSR
v
g,max
if v
LSR
> 0.
where v
g,min,max
(l, b, d) is the maximum or minimum velocity that dierential rotation can
account for in the specied direction, given by
2
v
g
(l, b, d) =

R
0
R
v(R) v(R
0
)

sin(l)cos(b)
1
where v(R) is the velocity at galactocentric radius R and R
0
is the suns distance from the
galactic center. HVCs are those clouds with |v
dev
| > 90 km s
1
and intermediate velocity
clouds (IVCs) are those with |v
dev
| = 30 90 km s
1
.
1
The image below, from reference 1, is an all sky map of the known HVCs color coded
with by deviation velocity. The clouds at 0

< l < 180

have negative velocities while


clouds at 180

< l < 360

have positive velocities because the LSR is moving towards


l = 90

. A cloud at l = 90

not participating in galactic rotation, or at rest with respect


to it, will have an observed velocity of -220 km s
1
, and this explains the velocity tendencies.
2
2.2 Distance
Direct distance limits are obtained using the absorption-line method
1
. This method
brackets the distance towards an HVC using the detection and non-detection of absorption
features in the spectra of stars toward the cloud
1
. An unambiguous detection sets an
upper limit on the clouds distance. For the case of a non-detection, care is required
to distinguish the non-detection from weak absorption due to too little material or to
a low ionic abundance
1
. This requires a reliable H I column density to the star, from
which a non-detection equivalent width can be predicted
1
. A lower distant limit follows if
EW
predicted
/EW
observed,3
is larger than 3
1
.
2.3 Metallicity
Measuring the content of metal in a cloud requires taking the ratio of the column den-
sity of a heavy element to the hydrogen column density. Certain factors will aect these
measurements and must be accounted for.
2.3.1 Ionization Fraction
In the diuse ISM, an element will be in one preferred ionization state over another deter-
mined by the rst ionization potential >13.6 eV
1
. Because oxygen and hydrogen have a
very similar ionization potential (13.62 eV and 13.6 eV), the column densities of O I and
H I are coupled and the ratio O I/H I is the most reliable measure, independent of the
ionized fraction
1
.
2.3.2 Dust
Dust particles are clump accretions of heavy atoms that form in low-density gaseous envi-
ronments. They have sizes in the range of from >4

A and <1 m
3
. Because a fraction of
the atoms of a specic metal is tied up in dust grains, the measured column densities of
the element in the gas is not the true column density. For example, 4% of the cosmic
C abundance resides in dust
3
. This depletion will aect the measurements of metallicity,
given by N[X]/N[H], and the presence of the dust gives insight to the history and source
of the gas cloud
1
.
The below table, from reference 1, shows the known HVCs with location, velocity, and
distance and metallicity when known.
3
3 History
The history of HVCs begins with the detection of absorption features in the spectra of
numerous stars. The double narrow sodium and calcium absorption lines stand in contrast
4
to the broad stellar lines detected by Beals (1938). This observation combined with the
unlikelihood of strong sodium in a B0 star led to the conclusion that the absorption was
done by interstellar matter
4
. He then makes the accurate prediction that under certain
circumstances, with a favorable distribution of stars it may be possible to delineate roughly
the boundaries of such condensations and to determine their approximate dimensions
4
.
This new idea led to systematic observations of high-galactic latitude stars in the 1950s
and resulted in the discovery of many intervening HI absorption systems with velocities
that dier by >20 km/s from the LSR
5
. The discovery of these apparently neutral clouds
far above the disk led to an important revelation by Lyman Spitzer. He surmised that a
medium must exist to pressure conne these apparently neutral condensations far outside
the disc
5
. In a paper published in 1956, Spitzer sets forth the hypothesis for the existence
of a Galactic Corona at 10
6
K extending far above the Galactic disc
6
. He reasons that
since the corona is ionized, the doublet absorption lines OVI 1032, 1038

A, NV 1239,
1243

A, and CIV 1548, 1551

A can be observed spectroscopically in the UV by space


satellites
6
.
The idea of the corona pushed the eld of research into undertaking HI surveys through-
out the 1960s
5
. Technological developments in the early sixties led to the positive detection
of HI with velocities of -116 to -174 km/s, now known to be a part of cores CI, AIV, and
B
6,7
. Because of these developments, high-velocity gas was now included in the IAU Sym-
posium in 1966 for the rst time
5
.
The studies continued in the 1970s but the eld remained small, as HVCs were still
considered something of a curiosity,
5
as opposed to profound research. The earlier sur-
veys were completed and detailed mapping of individual clouds commenced. Giovanelli et
al. (1973) mapped in detail complexes A, C, M, and HVC 166+56-140 among others. They
found a distinction between the high-velocity gas at high galactic latitudes and the high
latitude intermediate velocity gas, and also were able to distinguish hierarchical structure
in the high-velocity gas with the increased sensitivity
8
.
Despite its limited tracking capability, interstellar OVI was detected by the Coperni-
cus satellite during this time
9
. This discovery together with the detection of diuse x-ray
emission in the halo led to the idea of the galactic fountain, where supernovae would
send hot gas into the halo that would eventually cool and rain back down
5
. This idea will
be explored in more detail later. Other theories concerning the origin of the HVCs were
explored greatly in this time period
5
.
During the 80s, two surveys were completed that would be combined to form the
rst and only all sky HVC survey
1
. However, little progress was made in the theoretical
understanding
5
. This was until the 1990s when HVC research came of age
5
. Accurate
measurements of distance and metallicity were made and absorption line studies revealed
extragalactic analogs of the HVCs
5
. HVCs continue to be an active area of research today
with broad implications in the study of our Galaxy and the local group as well as galaxy
evolution in general.
5
4 Origins
4.1 The Galactic Fountain
One of the three main physical processes believed to create the HVCs is the Galactic
Fountain. This process is the only one self-contained within the Galaxy. The theoretical
idea for the Galactic Fountain comes as a consequence of Spitzers hot corona and the need
to create hot gas in the Galactic halo
10
. In the theoretical models developed in the 1980s,
the primary energy source of the hot gas became superbubbles
10
. These structures are
created by approximately 20-100 supernovae clustered together. By the 1990s,the ow
of hot gas into the halo and the production of high-velocity HI became viewed as closely
related to the evolution of these superbubble structures
10
.
Whether or not the superbubbles can escape into the halo is dependent upon the
strength of the magnetic eld around the disk. Tomisaka (1998) shows that for a magnetic
eld that scales with density, B
1/2
, with a constant eld of B = 5 G at z = 0
breakout will occur. Furthermore, the temperature of the halo gas, 1 to 2 10
6
K, is less
than the escape temperature of the galaxy and therefore gravitationally bound
1
0.
The nature of the ow is thus determined by the ratio of the dynamical and cooling
timescales. If the cooling timescale is less than the dynamical timescale, then the gas
will cool on its way up and clouds with positive and negative radial velocities would be
observed. For the case of the solar neighborhood, from Wakker 2013 via Kahn 1976, the
dynamical and cooling timescales can be derived:
First we dene the mean atomic mass number as
m
a
=

elements
A
el
m
el
where A
el
is the abundance percentage of each element and m
el
is the atomic mass. Since
A(H) = 0.925 and A(He) = 0.074, we have:
m
a
1.23m
H
Next we dene the mean particle mass, m
p
, for a fully ionized gas (accounting for
electrons) to be
m
p
0.5m
a
The mass density is given by = m
a
n
H
and the pressure by P =
kT
mp
. The sound
speed c
s
can then be obtained by
c
s
=

1/2
67

T
10
5.3

1/2
kms
1
where = 5/3 is the ratio of specic heats. The dynamical timescale is then given by
6
t
dyn
=
c
s
g
z
34

T
10
5.3

1/2

6.25 10
9
g
z

1
Myr
with g
z
being the gravity due to the disk near the sun. The cooling timescale is estimated
by comparing the rate of energy loss per unit mass and the rate of change of specic
entropy. The cooling time due to radiative losses is shown to be
t
cool
= 5.8

T
10
5.3

3/2

10
3
n
H

Myr
and the ratio of the two timescales is thus:
t
cool
t
dyn
0.17

T
10
5.3

10
3
n

.
So near the sun, hot gas ejected into the halo will cool in the upward ow and subse-
quently rain down onto the disc
1
. The velocities and location of these clouds are typical
of the IVCs
10
.
4.2 Dwarf Galaxy Streams
The second process believed responsible for generating HVCs is gas ow from satellite
dwarf galaxies. The gas ows occur via tidal stripping and ram-pressure stripping. The
Magellanic Stream is of prime importance for predictions of these theories.
4.2.1 Tidal debris
Due to its location, the Magellanic Stream has been associated with the Magellanic Clouds
as gas stripped by close interactions. Measurements of the metallicity of the clouds by
Wakker et al. (2002) and others support this view, since they found a relatively high
Z 0.3 Z

, in agreement with the stars and gas in the Clouds


1
.
The theoretical model undertaken by Gardiner and Noguchi (1996) reproduced many
main features of the Stream using only the tidal interactions of the Clouds and Galaxy
over the past 2 Gyr. As can be seen in the image from their paper, the model produces
a stream of particles extending away from the concentrated (SMC) area towards the LMC,
the so-called interCloud region,
14
which matches the geometry of the stream itself in the
left panel. Another noticeable feature is the backwards L-shaped stream in the opposite
direction, matching in shape the observed HI. This feature is called the leading arm, and
while the positional agreement may not match exactly, both the model and the HI clumps
show a atter trend in velocity with respect to longitude as compared with the rest of
the Stream
14
. Bregman (2004) nds this agreement between theory and observation, while
not exact, encouraging in regards to the tidal theory.
7
However, recent proper motions of the Clouds obtained from Hubble indicate that they
completed one orbit at most or even none at all
15
. In this case, the Stream cannot be
produced by tidal interactions with the Milky Way. Recent N-body simulations of Besla
et al. (2010) have taken this into consideration and reproduced the 150

extent of the
Stream as well as the lack of a stellar counterpart to the HI observations. While some of
the minute details are lacking, the model shows the possibility of the Stream originating
solely from interactions between the Clouds themselves.
4.2.2 Ram-Pressure Stripping
Whether or not ram-pressure plays an important role in gas stripping requires compar-
ing the forces due to the ram-pressure and the gravitational force of the galaxy. Bregman
(2004) shows that with a radial distribution of density n with the form,
n(r) =
n
0
(1 + (
r
rc
)
2
)
3
2
,
8
the density at the approximate distance to the LMC and SMC of 60 kpc with r
c
= 30 kpc
the core radius, n
0
= 10
4
cm
3
the core density from studies of the Hickson compact
group and others, a constant between
1
2
and
2
3
, is
n 10
4.5
cm
3
and with an estimated space velocity of 275 km s
1
, the ram pressure is
nm
p
v
2
= 4 10
14
g cm
1
s
2
This will not have much of an eect on the LMC which has a gravitational force of
2 10
12
g cm
1
s
2
but probably does eect the outer layers of the SMC that has a
gravitational force of only 2 10
13
g cm
1
s
2
, roughly a factor of 5 greater than the
ram-pressure force
10
.
4.3 Accretion from IGM
The third and nal physical process believed to underlie the observed HVCs is accretion
of low-metallicity gas from the intergalactic medium (IGM). This is gas accreting onto the
galaxy for the rst time, although the origin of this low Z gas remains an open question.
Ding et al. (2003) discuss the possible relation of low Z gas to dwarf galaxies and their
winds, and therefore a tidal stream origin. However, Grcevich and Putman (2009) con-
cluded that there is not enough mass of HI being accreted by satellite galaxies to account
for the SFR of the Milky Way. Therefore the gas does not have a solely tidal origin.
In the standard model of galaxy formation, developed rst in the 1970s, infalling gas
from the IGM heats to the virial temperature of the dark matter halo and subsequently
cools and accretes onto the disk
1
. However, cosmological simulations had trouble repro-
ducing the sharp upper cuto in the galaxy luminosity function
17
, as well matching the ob-
servations of red bright ellipticals at z 1
16
. Dekel and Birnboim (2006) introduce shock-
stability physics into models of galaxy formation and show that cold gas and star formation
is suppressed once a virial shock can be maintained above a critical mass ( 10
12
M

) and
after a critical redshift(z 2). Thus the Milky Way harbors lamentary streams of cold
gas from the IGM that are presently accreting and diluting the ISM; a process that will
likely continue until a merger with M33.
The large complex C has a measured metallicity on the order of 1/10
th20
solar and
likely is composed of extragalactic gas about to accrete
1
. More evidence for a non-tidal
accretion origin is needed for other HVCs, such as complex A and the Anti-Center HVCs,
however these are suspected of having a similarly low metallicity
1
. Although the exact
origin of many of the HVCs remains to be determined, the theory predicts the existence of
the observed cold clouds in a hot corona.
9
5 References
1. Wakker, B. P., and H. Van Woerden. High-Velocity Clouds. Planets, Stars and Stellar
Systems. Vol. 5. Dordrecht: Springer, 2013. 587-632. Print.
2. Wakker, B. P. 1991, A & A, 250, 500
3. Weingartner, J. C., Draine, B. T. 1999, ApJ, 517, 292
4. Beals, C. S. 1938, ApJ, 87
5. van Woerden, H., Wakker, B. P., Schwartz, U. J., de Boer, K. S., eds. 2004, High-
Velocity Clouds, Astrophysics an Space Science Library, Vol. 312 (Dodrecht: Klewer)
6. Spitzer, L. 1956, ApJ, 124, 20
7. Muller, C. A., Oort, J. H., Raimond, E. 1963, C.R. Acad. Sci. Paris, 257, 1661
8. Giovanelli, R., Verschuur, G. L., Cram, T. R. 1973, A&AS, 12, 209
9. Jenkins, E.B., 1978, ApJ, 219
10. Bregman, J. N. 2004, in High Velocity clouds, Astrophysics and Space Science Li-
brary, Vol. 312, (Dordrecht: Kluwer)
11. Tomisaka, K. 1998, MNRAS, 298, 797
12. Kahn, F. D. 1976, A & A, 50, 145
13. Wakker, B. P., Oosterloo, T. A., Putman, M. E. 2002, AJ, 123
14. Gardiner, L. T., Noguchi, M. 1996, MNRAS, 278, 191
15. Besla, G., Kallivayalil, N., Hernquist, L., van der Marel, R. P., Cox, T. J., Keres,
D. 2010, ApJ, 721.
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17. Thoul, A. A., Weinberg, D. H., 1995, ApJ, 442, 490
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19. Ding, J., Charlton, J. C., Bond, N. A., Zonak, S. G., Churchill, C. W., 2003, ApJ, 587,
621
20. Fox, A. J., Savage, B. D., Wakker, B. P., Richter, P., Sembach, K. R., Tripp, T.
M. 2004, ApJ, 602, 738
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