Structure formation in the current Universe operates through the accretion of group-scale systems onto massive clusters. The detection and study of such accreting systems is crucial to understand the build-up of the most massive virialized structures we see today. We report the discovery with XMM-Newton of an irregular X-ray substructure in the outskirts of the massive galaxy cluster Abell 2142. The tip of the X-ray emission coincides with a concentration of galaxies. The bulk of the X-ray emission of this substructure appears to be lagging behind the galaxies and extends over a projected scale of at least 800 kpc. The temperature of the gas in this region is 1.4 keV, which is a factor of ~4 lower than the surrounding medium and is typical of the virialized plasma of a galaxy group with a mass of a few 1013 M⊙. For this reason, we interpret this structure as a galaxy group in the process of being accreted onto the main dark-matter halo. The X-ray structure trailing behind the group is due to gas stripped from its original dark-matter halo as it moves through the intracluster medium (ICM). This is the longest X-ray trail reported to date. For an infall velocity of ~1200 km s-1 we estimate that the stripped gas has been surviving in the presence of the hot ICM for at least 600 Myr, which exceeds the Spitzer conduction timescale in the medium by a factor of ≳ 400. Such a strong suppression of conductivity is likely related to a tangled magnetic field with small coherence length and to plasma microinstabilities. The long survival time of the low-entropy intragroup medium suggests that the infalling material can eventually settle within the core of the main cluster.
- galaxies: clusters: general
- galaxies: clusters: intracluster medium
- galaxies: groups: general
- large-scale structure of Universe
- X-rays: galaxies: clusters