The NGC 1614 interacting galaxy Molecular gas feeding a "ring of fire"
Journal article, 2013
Minor mergers frequently occur between giant and gas-rich low-mass galaxies and can provide significant amounts of interstellar matter to refuel star formation and power active galactic nuclei (AGN) in the giant systems. Major starbursts and/or AGN result when fresh gas is transported and compressed in the central regions of the giant galaxy. This is the situation in the starburst minor merger NGC 1614, whose molecular medium we explore at half-arcsecond angular resolution through our observations of (CO)-C-12(2-1) emission using the Submillimeter Array (SMA). We compare our (CO)-C-12(2-1) maps with optical and Pa alpha, Hubble Space Telescope and high angular resolution radio continuum images to study the relationships between dense molecular gas and the NGC 1614 starburst region. The most intense (CO)-C-12 emission occurs in a partial ring with similar to 230 pc radius around the center of NGC 1614, with an extension to the northwest into the dust lane that contains diffuse molecular gas. We resolve ten giant molecular associations (GMAs) in the ring, which has an integrated molecular mass of similar to 8 x 10(8) M-circle dot. Our interferometric observations filter out a large part of the (CO)-C-12(1-0) emission mapped at shorter spacings, indicating that most of the molecular gas is diffuse and that GMAs only exist near and within the circumnuclear ring. The molecular ring is uneven with most of the mass on the western side, which also contains GMAs extending into a pronounced tidal dust lane. The spatial and kinematic patterns in our data suggest that the northwest extension of the ring is a cosmic umbilical cord that is feeding molecular gas associated with the dust lane and tidal debris into the nuclear ring, which contains the bulk of the starburst activity. The astrophysical process for producing a ring structure for the final resting place of accreted gas in NGC 1614 is not fully understood, but the presence of numerous GMAs suggests an orbit-crowding or resonance phenomenon. There is some evidence that star formation is progressing radially outward within the ring, indicating that a self-triggering mechanism may also affect star formation processes. The net result of this merger therefore very likely increases the central concentration of stellar mass in the NGC 1614 remnant giant system.
galaxies: individual: NGC 1614