Simulations of the Magellanic Stream in a first infall scenario

G. Besla, N. Kallivayalil, L. Hernquist, R. P. Van Der Marel, T. J. Cox, D. Kereš

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

188 Scopus citations


Recent high-precision proper motions from the Hubble Space Telescope suggest that the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (LMC and SMC, respectively) are either on their first passage or on an eccentric long period (>6 Gyr) orbit about the Milky Way (MW). This differs markedly from the canonical picture in which the Clouds travel on a quasi-periodic orbit about the MW (period of ∼2 Gyr). Without a short-period orbit about the MW, the origin of the Magellanic Stream, a young (1-2 Gyr old) coherent stream of Hi gas that trails the Clouds ∼150° across the sky, can no longer be attributed to stripping by MW tides and/or ram pressure stripping by MW halo gas. We propose an alternative formation mechanism in which material is removed by LMC tides acting on the SMC before the system is accreted by the MW. We demonstrate the feasibility and generality of this scenario using an N-body/smoothed particle hydrodynamics simulation with cosmologically motivated initial conditions constrained by the observations. Under these conditions, we demonstrate that it is possible to explain the origin of the Magellanic Stream in a first infall scenario. This picture is generically applicable to any gas-rich dwarf galaxy pair infalling toward a massive host or interacting in isolation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)L97-L101
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2 PART 2
StatePublished - Oct 1 2010


  • Galaxies: halos
  • Galaxies: individual (Magellanic Clouds)
  • Galaxies: kinematics and dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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