The Fate of Asymptotic Giant Branch Winds in Massive Galaxies and the Intracluster Medium

Yuan Li, Greg L. Bryan, Eliot Quataert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Winds from asymptotic giant branch (AGB) stars not only provide mass and energy return, but also produce dust grains in massive elliptical galaxies. Due to the fast stellar velocity, the wind is thought to form a comet-like tail, similar to Mira in the Local Bubble. Many massive elliptical galaxies and cluster centrals host extended dusty cold filaments. We carry out both analytical and numerical studies of the interaction between an AGB wind and the surrounding hot gas. We find that the cooling time of the tail is inversely proportional to the ambient pressure. In the absence of cooling, or in low-pressure environments (e.g., the outskirts of elliptical galaxies), AGB winds are quickly mixed into the hot gas, and all the AGB winds have a similar appearance and head-to-tail ratio. In high-pressure environments, such as the Local Bubble and the central regions of massive elliptical galaxies, some of the gas in the mixing layer between the stellar wind and the surrounding hot gas can cool efficiently and cause the tail to become longer. Our simulated tail of Mira itself has a similar length and velocity to that observed, and appears similar to the simulated AGB tail in the central regions of massive galaxies. While confirmation awaits future studies, we speculate that instead of thermal instability, the induced condensation at the mixing layer of AGB winds may be the origin of cold filaments in massive galaxies and galaxy clusters. This naturally explains the existence of dust and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon in the filaments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number41
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 10 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • dust, extinction
  • galaxies: ISM
  • galaxies: clusters: intracluster medium
  • galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD
  • stars: AGB and post-AGB
  • stars: mass-loss


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