Cold gas accretion in galaxies

Renzo Sancisi, Flippo Fraternali, Tom Oosterloo & Thijs van der Hulst

To appear in Astronomy & Astrophysics Reviews 2008.
Click here for full-resolution PDF version of the review.
Also available as arXiv:0803.0109v1


Evidence for the accretion of cold gas in galaxies has been rapidly accumulating in the past years. HI observations of galaxies and their environment have brought to light new facts and phenomena which are evidence of ongoing or recent accretion:

1) A large number of galaxies are accompanied by gas-rich dwarfs or are surrounded by HI cloud complexes, tails and filaments. This suggests ongoing minor mergers and recent arrival of external gas. It may be regarded, therefore, as direct evidence of cold gas accretion in the local universe. It is probably the same kind of phenomenon  of material infall as the stellar streams observed in the halos of our galaxy and  M31.

2) Considerable amounts of extra-planar HI have been found in nearby spiral galaxies. While a large fraction of this gas is undoubtedly produced by galactic fountains, it is likely that a part of it is of  extragalactic origin. Also the Milky Way has extra-planar gas complexes:  the Intermediate- and High-Velocity Clouds (IVCs and HVCs).

3) Spirals are known to have extended and warped outer layers of HI. It is not clear how these have formed, and how and for how long the warps can be sustained. Gas infall has been proposed as the origin.

4) The majority of galactic disks are lopsided in their morphology as well as in their kinematics. Also here recent accretion has been advocated as a possible cause.

In our view, accretion takes place both through the arrival and merging of gas-rich satellites and through gas infall from the intergalactic medium (IGM). The new gas could be added to the halo or be deposited in the outer parts of galaxies and form reservoirs for replenishing the inner parts and feeding star formation.The infall may have observable effects on the disk such as bursts of star formation and lopsidedness.

We infer a mean ``visible'' accretion rate of cold gas in galaxies  of at least 0.2 Msol/yr. In order to reach the accretion rates needed to sustain the observed  star formation (~1 Msol/yr), additional infall of large amounts of gas  from the IGM seems to be required.