Journal Article

Only marginal alignment of disc galaxies

René Andrae and Knud Jahnke

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 418, issue 3, pages 2014-2031
Published in print December 2011 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online December 2011 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
Only marginal alignment of disc galaxies

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Testing theories of angular-momentum acquisition of rotationally supported disc galaxies is the key to understanding the formation of this type of galaxies. The tidal-torque theory aims to explain this acquisition process in a cosmological framework and predicts positive autocorrelations of angular-momentum orientation and spiral-arm handedness, i.e. alignment of disc galaxies, on short distance scales of 1 Mpc h−1. This disc alignment can also cause systematic effects in weak-lensing measurements. Previous observations claimed discovering these correlations but are overly optimistic in the reported level of statistical significance of the detections. Errors in redshift, ellipticity and morphological classifications were not taken into account, although they have a significant impact. We explain how to rigorously propagate all the important errors through the estimation process. Analysing disc galaxies in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) data base, we find that positive autocorrelations of spiral-arm handedness and angular-momentum orientations on distance scales of 1 Mpc h−1 are plausible but not statistically significant. Current data appear not good enough to constrain parameters of theory. This result agrees with a simple hypothesis test in the Local Group, where we also find no evidence for disc alignment. Moreover, we demonstrate that ellipticity estimates based on second moments are strongly biased by galactic bulges even for Scd galaxies, thereby corrupting correlation estimates and overestimating the impact of disc alignment on weak-lensing studies. Finally, we discuss the potential of future sky surveys. We argue that photometric redshifts have too large errors, i.e. PanSTARRS and LSST cannot be used. Conversely, the EUCLID project will not cover the relevant redshift regime. We also discuss the potentials and problems of front-edge classifications of galaxy discs in order to improve the autocorrelation estimates of angular-momentum orientation.

Keywords: methods: data analysis; methods: statistical; galaxies: general

Journal Article.  13600 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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