AAS 195th Meeting, January 2000
Session 97. Gas and Stars In and Near Galaxies
Oral, Friday, January 14, 2000, 2:00-3:30pm, Regency VII

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[97.03] Optical Emission from High Velocity Clouds and the Nature of HVCs

B.J. Weiner (OCIW), S.N. Vogel (Maryland), T.B. Williams (Rutgers)

The nature and origin of the high-velocity clouds of neutral hydrogen remain controversial, and the distances of most HVCs are poorly constrained. Only the large northern HVC complexes M and A have upper distance limits, of <5 and 4--10 kpc, from absorption against halo stars (Danly et al 1993, van Woerden et al 1999). These HVCs have diffuse H-alpha emission of 80--200 milli-Rayleighs (mR) (Tufte, Reynolds & Haffner 1998).

We report results from a search of 20 high velocity clouds for faint diffuse optical emission lines in H-alpha and [N II], using a Fabry-Perot at the Las Campanas 2.5-m telescope. A few small complexes are ``bright,'' with H-alpha emission from 100--400 mR and high [N II]/H-alpha. Many HVCs are very faint in H-alpha: HVCs from the Anticenter, Galactic Center Negative, and Extreme Positive complexes have H-alpha from <15 to 30 mR.

We construct a simple model for the ionizing flux emergent from the galaxy, normalized by the northern ``bright'' HVCs with known distances and H-alpha fluxes. If the H-alpha from HVCs is produced by ionizing flux escaping from the Galaxy, the H-alpha flux can be used to infer distances for HVCs. The model places the very faint HVCs at distances of 20--60 kpc, in the outer Galactic halo. If H-alpha can be produced by other mechanisms, than these distances could be lower limits. Independent of the model or mechanism, the HVCs that are very faint in H-alpha should be much farther away than the nearby ``bright'' HVCs. The faint HVCs are too far away to be produced by a Galactic fountain, and represent a significant amount of gas accreting onto the Galaxy.

This work has been supported by a Carnegie Barbara McClintock Fellowship.

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