Tag Archives: milky way

University of Virginia

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Last week I visited Jennifer Sobeck and my former Yale-colleague Nitya Kallivayalil at the University of Virginia. Jen is the deputy project manager of APOGEE-2, which is a large spectroscopic survey collecting 300,000 high-resolution spectra of Milky Way stars (and other bright targets). Hence, her head is full of stellar atmospheres and element abundances. Nitya is the go-to person for proper motions of Galactic satellites, which is why there’s tons of overlap between my work and both of theirs. Frequently distracted by great food and stunning weather, we scienced around for a few days. Our brainstorming for low hanging fruits in the APOGEE-2 dataset brought us a few great ideas, which we will hopefully pursue within the next weeks and months. Steve Majewski, PI of APOGEE and also based at UVa, outsourced the same task to all his undergrads. Let’s see who’s first to have some results!

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Chaos in the Galaxy

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N-body simulations of tidal streams formed by Galactic satellites on regular orbits (A & B), a weakly chaotic orbit (C), and a strongly chaotic (D). The orbits of the four satellites are quite similar in terms of eccentricity and apo/pericenters, but the resulting streams show (and amplify) the underlying chaos.

During Adrian Price-Whelan’s dissertation talk today at the winter meeting (AAS227) of the American Astronomical Society in Kissimmee, Florida,  I was reminded that I haven’t mentioned our publication here. Adrian went through a whole lot of effort and characterized regular and chaotic orbits in a typical galactic gravitational potential. Usually, orbits in such a potential can be broadly categorized into chaotic and non-chaotic orbits. Adrian looked at this distinction in terms of the streams that are formed by satellites on such orbits. Continue reading Chaos in the Galaxy

How to weigh the Milky Way

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The Northern Hemisphere of the sky as seen by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Stellar streams stick out from the vast number of stars in this view, of which most lie within the Milky Way disk. The Palomar 5 stream is the densest of the stellar streams discovered so far and turned out to be a perfect scale and yardstick for our understanding of the Milky Way. (Credit: Ana Bonaca, Marla Geha and Nitya Kallivayalil with data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.)

The Milky Way consists of roughly 100 billion stars like our Sun, which form a huge stellar disk with a diameter of 100-200 thousand light years. The Sun is also part of this structure, hence, when we look into the sky, we look right into this gigantic disk of stars. The vast number of stars and the huge extent on the sky make it hard to measure fundamental quantities for the Milky Way – such as its weight.  Continue reading How to weigh the Milky Way

Stream fanning

streamfanning In my first year at Columbia I worked with grad student Sarah Pearson on an idea that Kathryn Johnston had while trying to find an orbit for Palomar 5 in a Law & Majewski potential. Wait what? Who’s Sarah, who’s Palomar 5, and what is a Law & Majewski potential?

Palomar 5 is a globular cluster in the halo of our Galaxy, the Milky Way. It is about 12 billion years old and consists of roughly 30,000 stars. The star cluster can be seen within the footprint of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. But even more fascinating is that we can also see a stream, consisting of at least as many stars, stretching out from the cluster along its orbit. This stream – there are actually two, one in the leading direction and one in the trailing direction – spans about 23 degrees on the sky, while being on average half a degree wide. That’s about the size of 50 full moons!  Continue reading Stream fanning

Tidal streams in an evolving dark matter halo

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2014 has been a great scientific year for me, in which I had the opportunity to contribute to many exciting projects. I’m very fond of the paper that came out of my collaboration with Ana Bonaca and Marla Geha, which we started back in 2013 when I was at Yale. Ana, who is a PhD student at Yale and who got famous for discovering the Triangulum stream in the southern part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, put a lot of effort into this project, and I’ve learned a lot from working with her.  Continue reading Tidal streams in an evolving dark matter halo

Streams, streams, streams

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For my presentation at the Gaia Challenge in Heidelberg, I made a quick ADS search for publications on tidal stream observations since their first discovery in 1995 by Carl Grillmair. Although tidal streams had been theoretically predicted before 1995, Grillmair showed for the first time that some star clusters have significant amounts of stars outside their tidal radii. At about the same time, the Sagittarius (Sgr) dwarf galaxy was discovered by Rodrigo Ibata, and people started finding patches of stars that belong to the stream emanating from this galactic satellite everywhere in the halo of the Milky Way. It took 6 more years until Michael Odenkirchen showed with commissioning data of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey that the globular cluster Palomar 5 has a coherent stream emanating from its Lagrange points out into the tidal field of the Milky Way. This publication also marked the onset of survey since in astronomy. Since 2000/2001 the rate of papers presenting new observational results on streams in the Galactic halo or around other galaxies grows exponentially. While this growth was initially driven by studies on the Sgr stream (red cumulative curve above), the focus is now shifting towards fainter streams like Palomar 5, NGC 5466 or GD-1 (blue curve). It’s a really exciting time to work in this field!

Gaia Challenge 2014

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End of October, I was in Heidelberg to attend the Gaia Challenge workshop at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA). This workshop series was initiated last year by Justin Read, Mark Gieles and Daisuke Kawata at the University of Surrey (Guilford, south of London). This year we came together again, but this time the meeting was organized by Glenn van de Ven, who is a research-group leader at the MPIA. Glenn booked the Haus der Astronomie (house of astronomy) for us, which is a public outreach building on the premises of MPIA. The cool thing about it is that it’s shaped like a spiral galaxy (see photo above). The bulge of the Haus der Astronomie is a large auditorium and the spiral arms consist of seminar rooms and a child day care center. It’s quite a unique place!  Continue reading Gaia Challenge 2014