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Lost and found dark matter in elliptical galaxies


There is strong evidence that the mass of the Universe is dominated by dark matter, which exerts gravitational attraction but whose exact nature is unknown. In particular, all galaxies are believed to be embedded in massive haloes of dark matter1,2. This view has recently been challenged by the observation of surprisingly low random stellar velocities in the outskirts of ordinary elliptical galaxies, which has been interpreted as indicating a lack of dark matter3,4. Here we show that the low velocities are in fact compatible with galaxy formation in dark-matter haloes. Using numerical simulations of disk-galaxy mergers5,6, we find that the stellar orbits in the outer regions of the resulting ellipticals are very elongated. These stars were torn by tidal forces from their original galaxies during the first close passage and put on outgoing trajectories. The elongated orbits, combined with the steeply falling density profile of the observed tracers, explain the observed low velocities even in the presence of large amounts of dark matter. Projection effects when viewing a triaxial elliptical can lead to even lower observed velocities along certain lines of sight.

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Figure 1: Three-dimensional profiles of the simulated merger remnants.
Figure 2: Projected profiles: simulated galaxies versus observations.

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We acknowledge discussions with M. Beasley, A. Burkert, K. Gebhardt, J. Navarro, A. Romanowsky and his group, and assistance from M. Covington. This research has been supported by the Israel Science Foundation and by NASA and NSF at UCSC. The simulations were run at NERSC. A.D. acknowledges a Miller Professorship at UC Berkeley, support from UCO/Lick Observatory, and a Blaise Pascal International Chair in Paris.

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Correspondence to A. Dekel.

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Supplementary Notes

This file contains an extension of the Letter to Nature, aimed at providing more detailed support to the results reported in the Letter. This file contains Supplementary Results, Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Figures S1–S11 and additional references. (PDF 468 kb)

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Dekel, A., Stoehr, F., Mamon, G. et al. Lost and found dark matter in elliptical galaxies. Nature 437, 707–710 (2005).

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