The enigmatic pair of dwarf galaxies leo IV and LEO V: Coincidence or common origin?

Jelte T.A. De Jong, Nicolas F. Martin, Hans Walter Rix, Kester W. Smith, Shoko Jin, Andrea V. MacCiò

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We have obtained deep photometry in two 1° × 1° fields covering the close pair of dwarf spheroidal galaxies Leo IV and Leo V and part of the area in between. From the distribution of likely red giant branch (RGB) and horizontal-branch (HB) stars in the data set, we find that both Leo IV and Leo V are significantly larger than indicated by previous measurements based on shallower data. With a half-light radius of rh = 4′6± 0′8 (206 36pc) and rh = 2.′6±0′6 (133±31pc), respectively, both systems are now well within the physical size bracket of typical dwarf spheroidal Milky Way satellites. Both are also found to be significantly elongated with an ellipticity of ε ≃ 0.5, a characteristic shared by many of the fainter (MV > - 8) Milky Way dwarf spheroidals. The large spatial extent of our survey allows us to search for extra-tidal features in the area between the two dwarf galaxies with unprecedented sensitivity. The spatial distribution of candidate RGB and HB stars in this region is found to be non-uniform at the 3σ level. Interestingly, this substructure is aligned along the direction connecting the two systems, indicative of a possible "bridge" of extra-tidal material. Fitting the stellar distribution with a linear Gaussian model yields a significance of 4σ for this overdensity, a most likely FWHM of 16 arcmin, and a central surface brightness of ≃32magarcsec-2. We investigate different scenarios to explain the close proximity of Leo IV and Leo V, and the possible tidal bridge between them. Orbit calculations demonstrate that the two systems cannot share the exact same orbit, while a compromise orbit does not approach the Galactic center more than 160kpc, rendering it unlikely that they are remnants of a single disrupted progenitor. A comparison with cosmological simulations shows that a chance collision between unrelated subhalos is negligibly small. Given their relative distance and velocity, Leo IV and Leo V could be a bound "tumbling pair," if their combined mass exceeds (84) × 109 M ·. The scenario of an internally interacting pair that fell into the Milky Way together appears to be the most viable explanation for this close celestial companionship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1664-1671
Number of pages8
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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