A galaxy system must have a minimum velocity dispersion for its mass to be greater than the sum of the masses of its galaxies. Nearly half of the nearby Hickson compact groups (HCGs) have too low a velocity dispersion in comparison with the rotational velocities of their spiral galaxies and internal velocity dispersions of their early types.
A detailed study of the low velocity dispersion group, HCG 16 – the only known group of late-type galaxies with diffuse intergalactic X-ray emitting hot gas – reveals that half of the diffuse X rays are associated with foreground/background sources and the remaining gas is clumpy and mostly associated with the bright galaxies of the group. The large-scale environment of the group suggests that HCG 16 lies where a cosmological filament falls perpendicularly onto a large-scale sheet.
The observed frequency of compact groups is lower than predicted from the extended Press-Schechter formalism, which also predicts that most 1013 M⊙ objects in the Universe must be fairly old and hence have already coalesced into single objects, reminiscent of elliptical galaxies over-luminous in X-rays that are now being discovered.
Thus, the low survival time of dense groups against the merging instability is no longer a worry for compact groups, as they form in large enough numbers. I show why other arguments against the reality of HCGs no longer hold, partly because of the biases of Hickson’s sample.