Dr. Ana Bonaca is a Staff Scientist at Carnegie Observatories. The central theme of her research program is the Milky Way as a cosmological laboratory, which will be mapped in unprecedented detail over the next decade. She searches for unusual patterns in these new data and interprets them with numerical experimentation to provide physical understanding. Her work aims to place constraints on the nature of dark matter and galaxy formation processes from detailed observations of the Milky Way and the local universe.
We report the discovery of Specter, a disrupted ultrafaint dwarf galaxy revealed by the H3 Spectroscopic Survey. We detected this structure via a pair of comoving metal-poor stars at a distance of 12.5 kpc, and further characterized it with Gaia astrometry and follow-up spectroscopy. Specter is a 25 degrees x 1 degrees stream of stars that is entirely invisible until strict kinematic cuts are applied to remove the Galactic foreground. The spectroscopic members suggest a stellar age tau greater than or similar to 12 Gyr and a mean metallicity <[Fe/H]> = -1.84(-0.18)(+0.16), with a significant intrinsic metallicity dispersion sigma([Fe/H]) = 0.37(-0.13)(+0.21). We therefore argue that Specter is the disrupted remnant of an ancient dwarf galaxy. With an integrated luminosity M-v approximate to -2.6, Specter is by far the least-luminous dwarf galaxy stream known. We estimate that dozens of similar streams are lurking below the detection threshold of current search techniques, and conclude that spectroscopic surveys offer a novel means to identify extremely low surface brightness structures.
Modern Galactic surveys have revealed an ancient merger that dominates the stellar halo of our galaxy (Gaia-Sausage-Enceladus, GSE). Using chemical abundances and kinematics from the H3 Survey, we identify 5559 halo stars from this merger in the radial range r (Gal) = 6-60kpc. We forward model the full selection function of H3 to infer the density profile of this accreted component of the stellar halo. We consider a general ellipsoid with principal axes allowed to rotate with respect to the galactocentric axes, coupled with a multiply broken power law. The best-fit model is a triaxial ellipsoid (axes ratios 10:8:7) tilted 25 degrees above the Galactic plane toward the Sun and a doubly broken power law with breaking radii at 12 kpc and 28 kpc. The doubly broken power law resolves a long-standing dichotomy in literature values of the halo breaking radius, being at either similar to 15 kpc or similar to 30 kpc assuming a singly broken power law. N-body simulations suggest that the breaking radii are connected to apocenter pile-ups of stellar orbits, and so the observed double-break provides new insight into the initial conditions and evolution of the GSE merger. Furthermore, the tilt and triaxiality of the stellar halo could imply that a fraction of the underlying dark matter halo is also tilted and triaxial. This has important implications for dynamical mass modeling of the galaxy as well as direct dark matter detection experiments.
Recent observations of the stellar halo have uncovered the debris of an ancient merger, Gaia-Sausage-Enceladus (GSE), estimated to have occurred greater than or similar to 8 Gyr ago. Follow-up studies have associated GSE with a large-scale tilt in the stellar halo that links two well-known stellar overdensities in diagonally opposing octants of the Galaxy (the Hercules-Aquila Cloud and Virgo Overdensity; HAC and VOD). In this paper, we study the plausibility of such unmixed merger debris persisting over several gigayears in the Galactic halo. We employ the simulated stellar halo from Naidu et al., which reproduces several key properties of the merger remnant, including the large-scale tilt. By integrating the orbits of these simulated stellar halo particles, we show that adoption of a spherical halo potential results in rapid phase mixing of the asymmetry. However, adopting a tilted halo potential preserves the initial asymmetry in the stellar halo for many gigayears. The asymmetry is preserved even when a realistic growing disk is added to the potential. These results suggest that HAC and VOD are long-lived structures that are associated with GSE and that the dark matter halo of the Galaxy is tilted with respect to the disk and aligned in the direction of HAC-VOD. Such halo-disk misalignment is common in modern cosmological simulations. Lastly, we study the relationship between the local and global stellar halo in light of a tilted global halo comprised of highly radial orbits. We find that the local halo offers a dynamically biased view of the global halo due to its displacement from the Galactic center.
Due to the different environments in the Milky Way's disc and halo, comparing wide binaries in the disc and halo is key to understanding wide binary formation and evolution. By using Gaia Early Data Release 3, we search for resolved wide binary companions in the H3 survey, a spectroscopic survey that has compiled similar to 150 000 spectra for thick-disc and halo stars to date. We identify 800 high-confidence (a contamination rate of 4 per cent) wide binaries and two resolved triples, with binary separations mostly between 10(3) and 10(5) au and a lowest [Fe/H] of -2.7. Based on their Galactic kinematics, 33 of them are halo wide binaries, and most of those are associated with the accreted Gaia-Sausage-Enceladus galaxy. The wide binary fraction in the thick disc decreases toward the low metallicity end, consistent with the previous findings for the thin disc. Our key finding is that the halo wide binary fraction is consistent with the thick-disc stars at a fixed [Fe/H]. There is no significant dependence of the wide binary fraction on the alpha-captured abundance. Therefore, the wide binary fraction is mainly determined by the iron abundance, not their disc or halo origin nor the alpha-captured abundance. Our results suggest that the formation environments play a major role for the wide binary fraction, instead of other processes like radial migration that only apply to disc stars.
The astrophysical origins of r-process elements remain elusive. Neutron star mergers (NSMs) and special classes of core-collapse supernovae (rCCSNe) are leading candidates. Due to these channels' distinct characteristic timescales (rCCSNe: prompt, NSMs: delayed), measuring r-process enrichment in galaxies of similar mass but differing star formation durations might prove informative. Two recently discovered disrupted dwarfs in the Milky Way's stellar halo, Kraken and Gaia-Sausage Enceladus (GSE), afford precisely this opportunity: Both have M-* approximate to 10(8) M (circle dot) but differing star formation durations of approximate to 2 Gyr and approximate to 3.6 Gyr. Here we present R approximate to 50,000 Magellan/MIKE spectroscopy for 31 stars from these systems, detecting the r-process element Eu in all stars. Stars from both systems have similar [Mg/H] approximate to -1, but Kraken has a median [Eu/Mg] approximate to -0.1 while GSE has an elevated [Eu/Mg] approximate to 0.2. With simple models, we argue NSM enrichment must be delayed by 500-1000 Myr to produce this difference. rCCSNe must also contribute, especially at early epochs, otherwise stars formed during the delay period would be Eu free. In this picture, rCCSNe account for approximate to 50% of the Eu in Kraken, approximate to 25% in GSE, and approximate to 15% in dwarfs with extended star formation durations like Sagittarius. The inferred delay time for NSM enrichment is 10x-100x longer than merger delay times from stellar population synthesis-this is not necessarily surprising because the enrichment delay includes time taken for NSM ejecta to be incorporated into subsequent generations of stars. For example, this may be due to natal kicks that result in r-enriched material deposited far from star-forming gas, which then takes approximate to 10(8)-10(9) yr to cool in these galaxies.