The origin of cold gas in giant elliptical galaxies and its role in fueling radio-mode AGN feedback [CEA]

We present a multi-wavelength study of the interstellar medium in eight nearby, X-ray and optically bright, giant elliptical galaxies. Using Herschel PACS, we map the cold gas in the lines of [CII], [OI], and [OIb]. Additionally, we present Ha+[NII] imaging of warm ionized gas with the SOAR telescope, and a study of the hot X-ray emitting plasma with Chandra. All systems with extended Ha emission in our sample (6/8 galaxies) display significant [CII] line emission indicating the presence of cold gas. This emission is co-spatial with the Ha+[NII] emitting nebulae and the lowest entropy X-ray emitting plasma. The entropy profiles of the hot galactic atmospheres show a clear dichotomy, with the systems displaying extended emission line nebulae having lower entropies beyond r~1 kpc than the cold-gas-poor systems. We show that while the hot atmospheres of the cold-gas-poor galaxies are thermally stable outside of their innermost cores, the atmospheres of the cold-gas-rich systems are prone to cooling instabilities. This result indicates that the cold gas is produced chiefly by thermally unstable cooling from the hot phase. We show that cooling instabilities may develop more easily in rotating systems and discuss an alternative condition for thermal instability for this case. The hot atmospheres of cold-gas-rich galaxies display disturbed morphologies indicating that the accretion of clumpy multiphase gas in these systems may result in variable power output of the AGN jets, potentially triggering sporadic, larger outbursts. In the two cold-gas-poor, X-ray morphologically relaxed galaxies of our sample, NGC 1399 and NGC 4472, powerful AGN outbursts may have destroyed or removed most of the cold gas from the cores, allowing the jets to propagate and deposit most of their energy further out, increasing the entropy of the hot galactic atmospheres and leaving their cores relatively undisturbed.

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Date added: Tue, 22 Oct 13