Is GBT 1355+5439 a dark galaxy?

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Astronomy and Astrophysics

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We present H i imaging of GBT 1355+5439 performed with the Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope. This is a dark H i object recently discovered close to the nearby galaxy M101. We find GBT 1355+5439 to be an H i cloud 5 × 3 arcmin in size. The total H i image and the kinematics show that the cloud consists of condensations that have small (~10 km s-1) motions with respect to each other. The column densities of the H i are low; the observed peak value is 7.1 × 1019 cm-2. The velocity field shows a mild velocity gradient over the body of GBT 1355+5439, possibly due to rotation, but it may also indicate large-scale radial motions. Although our data are limited in sensitivity, at all positions the H i velocity dispersion is higher than 5 km s-1 and no narrow, cold, H i component is seen. Because its distance is not known, we considered various possibilities for the nature of GBT 1355+5439. Both the scenarios that it is a tidal remnant near M101 and that it is a dark dwarf companion of M101 meet difficulties. Neither do the data fit the properties of known compact high-velocity clouds in the Galactic halo exactly, but we cannot entirely exclude this option and deeper observations are required. We also considered the possibility that GBT 1355+5439 is a gas-rich dark minihalo in the outer regions of the Local Group. Interestingly, it would then have similar properties as the clouds of a proposed Local Group population recently found in the ALFALFA survey. In this case, the H i mass of GBT 1355+5439 would be about a few times 105M⊙, its size about 1 kpc, and the dynamical mass Mdyn > 5 × 107M⊙. However, if GBT 1355+5439 is a dark Local Group object, the internal kinematics of the H i appears to be different from that of gas-dominated, almost dark galaxies of similar size.