Ultra-compact dwarf galaxy formation by tidal stripping of nucleated dwarf galaxies

J. Pfeffer, Holger Baumgardt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Citations (Scopus)


Ultra-compact dwarf galaxies (UCDs) and dwarf galaxy nuclei have many common properties, such as internal velocity dispersions and colour-magnitude trends, suggesting tidally stripped dwarf galaxies as a possible UCD origin. However, UCDs typically have sizes more than twice as large as nuclei at the same luminosity. We use a graphics processing unit (GPU)-enabled version of the particle-mesh code SUPERBOX to study the possibility of turning nucleated dwarf galaxies into UCDs by tidally stripping them in a Virgo-like galaxy cluster. We find that motion in spherical potentials, where close passages happen many times, leads to the formation of compact (rh ≲ 20 pc) star clusters/UCDs. In contrast, orbital motion where close passages happen only once or twice leads to the formation of extended objects which are large enough to account for the full range of observed UCD sizes. For such motion, we find that dwarf galaxies need close pericentre passages with distances less than 10 kpc to undergo strong enough stripping so that UCD formation is possible. As tidal stripping produces objects with similar properties to UCDs, and our estimates suggest dwarf galaxies have been destroyed in sufficient numbers to explain the observed number of UCDs in M87, we consider tidal stripping to be a likely origin of UCDs. However, comparison with cosmological simulations is needed to determine if the number and spatial distribution of UCDs formed by tidal stripping matches the observations of UCDs in galaxy clusters.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013
Externally publishedYes


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