Dark No More: The Low-luminosity Stellar Counterpart of a Dark Cloud in the Virgo Cluster

Michael G. Jones, Steven Janowiecki, Swapnaneel Dey, David J. Sand, Paul Bennet, Denija Crnojević, Catherine E. Fielder, Ananthan Karunakaran, Brian R. Kent, Nicolas Mazziotti, Burçin Mutlu-Pakdil, Kristine Spekkens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We have discovered the stellar counterpart to the ALFALFA Virgo 7 cloud complex, which has been thought to be optically dark and nearly star-free since its discovery in 2007. This ∼190 kpc long chain of enormous atomic gas clouds (M H i ∼ 109 M ) is embedded in the hot intracluster medium of the Virgo galaxy cluster but is isolated from any galaxy. Its faint, blue stellar counterpart, BC6, was identified in a visual search of archival optical and UV imaging. Follow-up observations with the Green Bank Telescope, Hobby-Eberly Telescope, and Hubble Space Telescope demonstrate that this faint counterpart is at the same velocity as the atomic gas, actively forming stars, and metal-rich (12 + (O/H) = 8.58 ± 0.25). We estimate its stellar mass to be only log ( M * / M ⊙ ) ∼ 4.4 , making it one of the most gas-rich stellar systems known. Aside from its extraordinary gas content, the properties of BC6 are entirely consistent with those of a recently identified class of young, low-mass, isolated, and star-forming clouds in Virgo that appear to have formed via extreme ram pressure stripping events. We expand the existing discussion of the origin of this structure and suggest NGC 4522 as a likely candidate; however, the current evidence is not fully consistent with any of our proposed progenitor galaxies. We anticipate that other “dark” gas clouds in Virgo may have similarly faint, star-forming counterparts. We aim to identify these through the help of a citizen science search of the entire cluster.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL15
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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