Not dead yet: Cool circumgalactic gas in the halos of early-type galaxies

Christopher Thom, Jason Tumlinson, Jessica K. Werk, J. Xavier Prochaska, Benjamin D. Oppenheimer, Molly S. Peeples, Todd M. Tripp, Neal S. Katz, John M. O'Meara, Amanda Brady Ford, Romeel Davé, Kenneth R. Sembach, David H. Weinberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


We report new observations of circumgalactic gas in the halos of early-type galaxies (ETGs) obtained by the COS-Halos Survey with the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph on board the Hubble Space Telescope. We find that detections of H I surrounding ETGs are typically as common and strong as around star-forming galaxies, implying that the total mass of circumgalactic material is comparable in the two populations. For ETGs, the covering fraction for H I absorption above 1016 cm-2 is 40%-50% within 150 kpc. Line widths and kinematics of the detected material show it to be cold (T ≲ 105 K) in comparison to the virial temperature of the host halos. The implied masses of cool, photoionized circumgalactic medium baryons may be up to 10 9-1011 M. Contrary to some theoretical expectations, strong halo H I absorbers do not disappear as part of the quenching of star formation. Even passive galaxies retain significant reservoirs of halo baryons that could replenish the interstellar gas reservoir and eventually form stars. This halo gas may feed the diffuse and molecular gas that is frequently observed inside ETGs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL41
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 20 2012


  • galaxies: formation
  • galaxies: halos
  • intergalactic medium
  • only material: color figure
  • quasars: absorption lines Online

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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