We present with outstanding detail an extragalactic perspective of an extended stellar tidal stream wrapping around the edge-on, spiral galaxy NGC 5907.
Our deep images reveal for the first time a large scale complex of arcing loops that is an excellent example of how a low-mass satellite accretion can produce a interweaved, rosette-like structure of debris dispersed in the halo of its host galaxy. The existence of this structure, which has probably survived for several Gigayears, confirms that halos of spiral galaxies in the Local Universe still contain a significant number of galactic fossils from their hierarchical formation.
To examine the validity of the external accretion scenario, we present N-body simulations of the tidal disruption of a dwarf galaxy-like system in a disk galaxy plus dark halo potential that demonstrate that most of the observed tidal features observed in NGC 5907 can be explained by a single accretion event. Unfortunately, with no kinematical data and only the projected geometry of the stream as constraint, the parameters of our model are considerably degenerate and, for now, must be considered illustrative only.
Interestingly, NGC 5907 has long been considered a prototypical example of a warped spiral in relative isolation. The presence of an extended tidal stream challenges this picture and suggests that the gravitational perturbations induced by the stream progenitor may be the cause for the warp. The detection of an old, complex tidal stream in a nearby galaxy with rather modest instrumentation points to the viability of surveys to find extragalactic tidal substructures around spiral galaxies in the Local Volume (< 15 Mpc) — with the prospect of obtaining a census with enough statistical significance to be compared with cosmological simulations.