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Virial shocks at the edges of cosmic-web structures are a clear prediction of standard structure formation theories. We derive a criterion for the stability of the post-shock gas and of the virial shock itself in spherical, filamentary, and planar infall geometries. When gas cooling is important, we find that shocks become unstable, and gas flows uninterrupted toward the center of the respective halo, filament, or sheet. For filaments, we impose this criterion on self-similar infall solutions. We find that instability is expected for filament masses between 1011 and 1013 Mpc-1. Using a simplified toy model, we then show that these filaments will likely feed halos with 1010 M o ≲ M halo ≲ 1013 M o at redshift z = 3, as well as 1012 M o ≲ M halo ≲ 1015 M o at z = 0. The instability will affect the survivability of the filaments as they penetrate gaseous halos in a non-trivial way. Additionally, smaller halos accreting onto non-stable filaments will not be subject to ram pressure inside the filaments. The instreaming gas will continue toward the center and stop either once its angular momentum balances the gravitational attraction, or when its density becomes so high that it becomes self-shielded to radiation.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numberL4
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - 20 Nov 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved..


  • cosmology: theory
  • galaxies: halos
  • hydrodynamics
  • intergalactic medium
  • large-scale structure of universe1


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