Astronomy

Can we resolve the centers of Milky way's satellite galaxies now?

Can we resolve the centers of Milky way's satellite galaxies now?


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Two dwarf satellite galaxies of our galaxy have large $frac{ ext{diameter}}{ ext{distance}}$ values. And one of them, Canis Major Dwarf, is 8kpc away which is the same with our distance to the galactic center.

Can we limit the masses(even they are not heavy) of their central black holes now? Like Gillessen et al. 2009, maybe we can find stars orbiting their central black holes.


The Milky Way Captured Several Tiny Galaxies From Its Neighbor

Visualization of the simulations used in the study. Top left shows dark matter in white. Bottom right shows a simulated Large Magellanic Cloud-like galaxy with stars and gas, and several smaller companion galaxies. Credit: Ethan Jahn, UC Riverside.

University of California Riverside-led research shows our galaxy is undergoing a massive merger with its largest satellite galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Just like the moon orbits the Earth, and the Earth orbits the sun, galaxies orbit each other according to the predictions of cosmology.

For example, more than 50 discovered satellite galaxies orbit our own galaxy, the Milky Way. The largest of these is the Large Magellanic Cloud, or LMC, a large dwarf galaxy that resembles a faint cloud in the Southern Hemisphere night sky.

A team of astronomers led by scientists at the University of California, Riverside, has discovered that several of the small — or “dwarf” — galaxies orbiting the Milky Way were likely stolen from the LMC, including several ultrafaint dwarfs, but also relatively bright and well-known satellite galaxies, such as Carina and Fornax.

The researchers made the discovery by using new data gathered by the Gaia space telescope on the motions of several nearby galaxies and contrasting this with state-of-the-art cosmological hydrodynamical simulations. The UC Riverside team used the positions in the sky and the predicted velocities of material, such as dark matter, accompanying the LMC, finding that at least four ultrafaint dwarfs and two classical dwarfs, Carina and Fornax, used to be satellites of the LMC. Through the ongoing merger process, however, the more massive Milky Way used its powerful gravitational field to tear apart the LMC and steal these satellites, the researchers report.

“These results are an important confirmation of our cosmological models, which predict that small dwarf galaxies in the universe should also be surrounded by a population of smaller fainter galaxy companions,” said Laura Sales, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, who led the research team. “This is the first time that we are able to map the hierarchy of structure formation to such faint and ultrafaint dwarfs.”

Laura Sales (right), an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at UC Riverside, is seen here with Ethan Jahn, her graduate student. Credit: Sales group, UC Riverside

The findings have important implications for the total mass of the LMC and also on the formation of the Milky Way.

“If so many dwarfs came along with the LMC only recently, that means the properties of the Milky Way satellite population just 1 billion years ago were radically different, impacting our understanding of how the faintest galaxies form and evolve,” Sales said.

Study results appear in the November 2019 issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Dwarf galaxies are small galaxies that contain anywhere from a few thousand to a few billion stars. The researchers used computer simulations from the Feedback In Realistic Environments project to show the LMC and galaxies similar to it host numerous tiny dwarf galaxies, many of which contain no stars at all — only dark matter, a type of matter scientists think constitutes the bulk of the universe’s mass.

“The high number of tiny dwarf galaxies seems to suggest the dark matter content of the LMC is quite large, meaning the Milky Way is undergoing the most massive merger in its history, with the LMC, its partner, bringing in as much as one third of the mass in the Milky Way’s dark matter halo — the halo of invisible material that surrounds our galaxy,” said Ethan Jahn, the first author of the paper and a graduate student in Sales’ research group.

Jahn explained that the number of tiny dwarf galaxies the LMC hosts may be higher than astronomers previously estimated and that many of these tiny satellites have no stars.

“Small galaxies are hard to measure, and it’s possible that some already-known ultrafaint dwarf galaxies are in fact associated with the LMC,” he said. “It’s also possible that we will discover new ultrafaints that are associated with the LMC.”

Dwarf galaxies can either be satellites of larger galaxies, or they can be “isolated,” existing on their own and independent of any larger object. The LMC used to be isolated, Jahn explained, but it was captured by the gravity of the Milky Way and is now its satellite.

“The LMC hosted at least seven satellite galaxies of its own, including the Small Magellanic Cloud in the Southern Sky, prior to them being captured by the Milky Way,” he said.

Next, the team will study how the satellites of LMC-sized galaxies form their stars and how that relates to how much dark matter mass they have.

“It will be interesting to see if they form differently than satellites of Milky Way-like galaxies,” Jahn said.

Sales and Jahn were joined in the study Andrew Wetzel of UC Davis Michael Boylan-Kolchin of the University of Texas at Austin T. K. Chan of UC San Diego Kareem El-Badry of UC Berkeley and Alexandres Lazar and James S. Bullock of UC Irvine.

The research was supported by grants to Sales from NASA and the Hellman Foundation.

Reference: “Dark and luminous satellites of LMC-mass galaxies in the FIRE simulations” by Ethan D Jahn, Laura V Sales, Andrew Wetzel, Michael Boylan-Kolchin, T K Chan, Kareem El-Badry, Alexandres Lazar and James S Bullock, 5 September 2019, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stz2457


Satellite Galaxies Of The Milky Way Help Test Dark Matter Theory

A research team led by physicists at the University of California, Riverside, reports tiny satellite galaxies of the Milky Way can be used to test fundamental properties of "dark matter" -- nonluminous material thought to constitute 85% of matter in the universe.

Using sophisticated simulations, the researchers show a theory called self-interacting dark matter, or SIDM, can compellingly explain diverse dark matter distributions in Draco and Fornax, two of the Milky Way's more than 50 discovered satellite galaxies.

The prevailing dark matter theory, called Cold Dark Matter, or CDM, explains much of the universe, including how structures emerge in it. But a long-standing challenge for CDM has been to explain the diverse dark matter distributions in galaxies.

The researchers, led by UC Riverside's Hai-Bo Yu and Laura V. Sales, studied the evolution of SIDM "subhalos" in the Milky Way "tidal field" -- the gradient in the gravitational field of the Milky Way that a satellite galaxy feels in the form of a tidal force. Subhalos are dark matter clumps that host the satellite galaxies.

"We found SIDM can produce diverse dark matter distributions in the halos of Draco and Fornax, in agreement with observations," said Yu, an associate professor of physics and astronomy and a theoretical physicist with expertise in particle properties of dark matter. "In SIDM, the interaction between the subhalos and the Milky Way's tides leads to more diverse dark matter distributions in the inner regions of subhalos, compared to their CDM counterparts."

Draco and Fornax have opposite extremes in their inner dark matter contents. Draco has the highest dark matter density among the nine bright Milky Way satellite galaxies Fornax has the lowest. Using advanced astronomical measurements, astrophysicists recently reconstructed their orbital trajectories in the Milky Way's tidal field.

"Our challenge was to understand the origin of Draco and Fornax's diverse dark matter distributions in light of these newly measured orbital trajectories," Yu said. "We found SIDM can provide an explanation after taking into both tidal effects and dark matter self-interactions."

Study results appear in Physical Review Letters.

Dark matter's nature remains largely unknown. Unlike normal matter, it does not absorb, reflect, or emit light, making it difficult to detect. Identifying the nature of dark matter is a central task in particle physics and astrophysics.

In CDM, dark matter particles are assumed to be collisionless, and every galaxy sits within a dark matter halo that forms the gravitational scaffolding holding it together. In SIDM, dark matter is proposed to self-interact through a new dark force. Dark matter particles are assumed to strongly collide with one another in the inner halo, close to the galaxy's center -- a process called dark matter self-interaction.

"Our work shows satellite galaxies of the Milky Way may provide important tests of different dark matter theories," said Sales, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy and an astrophysicist with expertise in numerical simulations of galaxy formation. "We show the interplay between dark matter self-interactions and tidal interactions can produce novel signatures in SIDM that are not expected in the prevailing CDM theory."

In their work, the researchers mainly used numerical simulations, called "N-body simulations," and obtained valuable intuition through analytical modeling before running their simulations.

"Our simulations reveal novel dynamics when an SIDM subhalo evolves in the tidal field," said Omid Sameie, a former UCR graduate student who worked with Yu and Sales and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin working on numerical simulations of galaxy formation. "It was thought observations of Draco were inconsistent with SIDM predictions. But we found a subhalo in SIDM can produce a high dark matter density to explain Draco."

Sales explained SIDM predicts a unique phenomenon named "core collapse." In certain circumstances, the inner part of the halo collapses under the influence of gravity and produces a high density. This is contrary to the usual expectation that dark matter self-interactions lead to a low-density halo. Sales said the team's simulations identify conditions for the core collapse to occur in subhalos.

"To explain Draco's high dark matter density, its initial halo concentration needs to be high," she said. "More dark matter mass needs to be distributed in the inner halo. While this is true for both CDM and SIDM, for SIDM the core-collapse phenomenon can only occur if the concentration is high so that the collapse timescale is less than the age of the universe. On the other hand, Fornax has a low-concentrated subhalo, and hence its density remains low."

The researchers stressed their current work mainly focuses on SIDM and does not make a critical assessment on how well CDM can explain both Draco and Fornax.

After the team used numerical simulations to properly take into account the dynamical interplay between dark matter self-interactions and tidal interactions, the researchers observed a striking result.

"The central dark matter of an SIDM subhalo could be increasing, contrary to usual expectations," Sameie said. "Importantly, our simulations identify conditions for this phenomenon to occur in SIDM, and we show it can explain observations of Draco."

The research team plans to extend the study to other satellite galaxies, including ultrafaint galaxies.

Yu, Sales, and Sameie were joined in the study by Mark Vogelsberger of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Jesús Zavala of the University of Iceland. Sameie is the first author of the research paper.


Satellite galaxies of the Milky Way help test dark matter theory

A research team led by physicists at the University of California, Riverside, reports tiny satellite galaxies of the Milky Way can be used to test fundamental properties of "dark matter" -- nonluminous material thought to constitute 85% of matter in the universe.

Using sophisticated simulations, the researchers show a theory called self-interacting dark matter, or SIDM, can compellingly explain diverse dark matter distributions in Draco and Fornax, two of the Milky Way's more than 50 discovered satellite galaxies.

The prevailing dark matter theory, called Cold Dark Matter, or CDM, explains much of the universe, including how structures emerge in it. But a long-standing challenge for CDM has been to explain the diverse dark matter distributions in galaxies.

The researchers, led by UC Riverside's Hai-Bo Yu and Laura V. Sales, studied the evolution of SIDM "subhalos" in the Milky Way "tidal field" -- the gradient in the gravitational field of the Milky Way that a satellite galaxy feels in the form of a tidal force. Subhalos are dark matter clumps that host the satellite galaxies.

"We found SIDM can produce diverse dark matter distributions in the halos of Draco and Fornax, in agreement with observations," said Yu, an associate professor of physics and astronomy and a theoretical physicist with expertise in particle properties of dark matter. "In SIDM, the interaction between the subhalos and the Milky Way's tides leads to more diverse dark matter distributions in the inner regions of subhalos, compared to their CDM counterparts."

Draco and Fornax have opposite extremes in their inner dark matter contents. Draco has the highest dark matter density among the nine bright Milky Way satellite galaxies Fornax has the lowest. Using advanced astronomical measurements, astrophysicists recently reconstructed their orbital trajectories in the Milky Way's tidal field.

"Our challenge was to understand the origin of Draco and Fornax's diverse dark matter distributions in light of these newly measured orbital trajectories," Yu said. "We found SIDM can provide an explanation after taking into both tidal effects and dark matter self-interactions."

Study results appear in Physical Review Letters.

Dark matter's nature remains largely unknown. Unlike normal matter, it does not absorb, reflect, or emit light, making it difficult to detect. Identifying the nature of dark matter is a central task in particle physics and astrophysics.

In CDM, dark matter particles are assumed to be collisionless, and every galaxy sits within a dark matter halo that forms the gravitational scaffolding holding it together. In SIDM, dark matter is proposed to self-interact through a new dark force. Dark matter particles are assumed to strongly collide with one another in the inner halo, close to the galaxy's center -- a process called dark matter self-interaction.

"Our work shows satellite galaxies of the Milky Way may provide important tests of different dark matter theories," said Sales, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy and an astrophysicist with expertise in numerical simulations of galaxy formation. "We show the interplay between dark matter self-interactions and tidal interactions can produce novel signatures in SIDM that are not expected in the prevailing CDM theory."

In their work, the researchers mainly used numerical simulations, called "N-body simulations," and obtained valuable intuition through analytical modeling before running their simulations.

"Our simulations reveal novel dynamics when an SIDM subhalo evolves in the tidal field," said Omid Sameie, a former UCR graduate student who worked with Yu and Sales and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin working on numerical simulations of galaxy formation. "It was thought observations of Draco were inconsistent with SIDM predictions. But we found a subhalo in SIDM can produce a high dark matter density to explain Draco."

Sales explained SIDM predicts a unique phenomenon named "core collapse." In certain circumstances, the inner part of the halo collapses under the influence of gravity and produces a high density. This is contrary to the usual expectation that dark matter self-interactions lead to a low-density halo. Sales said the team's simulations identify conditions for the core collapse to occur in subhalos.

"To explain Draco's high dark matter density, its initial halo concentration needs to be high," she said. "More dark matter mass needs to be distributed in the inner halo. While this is true for both CDM and SIDM, for SIDM the core-collapse phenomenon can only occur if the concentration is high so that the collapse timescale is less than the age of the universe. On the other hand, Fornax has a low-concentrated subhalo, and hence its density remains low."

The researchers stressed their current work mainly focuses on SIDM and does not make a critical assessment on how well CDM can explain both Draco and Fornax.

After the team used numerical simulations to properly take into account the dynamical interplay between dark matter self-interactions and tidal interactions, the researchers observed a striking result.

"The central dark matter of an SIDM subhalo could be increasing, contrary to usual expectations," Sameie said. "Importantly, our simulations identify conditions for this phenomenon to occur in SIDM, and we show it can explain observations of Draco."

The research team plans to extend the study to other satellite galaxies, including ultrafaint galaxies.


New evidence of how and when the Milky Way came together

New research provides the best evidence to date into the timing of how our early Milky Way came together, including the merger with a key satellite galaxy.

Using relatively new methods in astronomy, the researchers were able to identify the most precise ages currently possible for a sample of about a hundred red giant stars in the galaxy.

With this and other data, the researchers were able to show what was happening when the Milky Way merged with an orbiting satellite galaxy, known as Gaia-Enceladus, about 10 billion years ago.

Their results were published today (May 17, 2021) in the journal Nature Astronomy.

“Our evidence suggests that when the merger occurred, the Milky Way had already formed a large population of its own stars,” said Fiorenzo Vincenzo, co-author of the study and a fellow in The Ohio State University’s Center for Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics.

Many of those “homemade” stars ended up in the thick disc in the middle of the galaxy, while most that were captured from Gaia-Enceladus are in the outer halo of the galaxy.

“The merging event with Gaia-Enceladus is thought to be one of the most important in the Milky Way’s history, shaping how we observe it today,” said Josefina Montalban, with the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., who led the project.

By calculating the age of the stars, the researchers were able to determine, for the first time, that the stars captured from Gaia-Enceladus have similar or slightly younger ages compared to the majority of stars that were born inside the Milky Way.

A violent merger between two galaxies can’t help but shake things up, Vincenzo said. Results showed that the merger changed the orbits of the stars already in the galaxy, making them more eccentric.

Vincenzo compared the stars’ movements to a dance, where the stars from the former Gaia-Enceladus move differently than those born within the Milky Way. The stars even “dress” differently, Vincenzo said, with stars from outside showing different chemical compositions from those born inside the Milky Way.

The researchers used several different approaches and data sources to conduct their study.

One way the researchers were able to get such precise ages of the stars was through the use of asteroseismology, a relatively new field that probes the internal structure of stars.

Asteroseismologists study oscillations in stars, which are sound waves that ripple through their interiors, said Mathieu Vrard, a postdoctoral research associate in Ohio State’s Department of Astronomy.

“That allows us to get very precise ages for the stars, which are important in determining the chronology of when events happened in the early Milky Way,” Vrard said.

The study also used a spectroscopic survey, called APOGEE, which provides the chemical composition of stars – another aid in determining their ages.

“We have shown the great potential of asteroseismology, in combination with spectroscopy, to age-date individual stars,” Montalban said.

This study is just the first step, according to the researchers.

“We now intend to apply this approach to larger samples of stars, and to include even more subtle features of the frequency spectra,” Vincenzo said.

“This will eventually lead to a much sharper view of the Milky Way’s assembly history and evolution, creating a timeline of how our galaxy developed.”

The work is the result of the collaborative Asterochronometry project, funded by the European Research Council.


Satellite galaxies of the Milky Way help test dark matter theory

A research team led by physicists at the University of California, Riverside, reports tiny satellite galaxies of the Milky Way can be used to test fundamental properties of “dark matter” — nonluminous material thought to constitute 85% of matter in the universe.

Using sophisticated simulations, the researchers show a theory called self-interacting dark matter, or SIDM, can compellingly explain diverse dark matter distributions in Draco and Fornax, two of the Milky Way’s more than 50 discovered satellite galaxies.

The prevailing dark matter theory, called Cold Dark Matter, or CDM, explains much of the universe, including how structures emerge in it. But a long-standing challenge for CDM has been to explain the diverse dark matter distributions in galaxies.

The researchers, led by UC Riverside’s Hai-Bo Yu and Laura V. Sales, studied the evolution of SIDM “subhalos” in the Milky Way “tidal field” — the gradient in the gravitational field of the Milky Way that a satellite galaxy feels in the form of a tidal force. Subhalos are dark matter clumps that host the satellite galaxies.

“We found SIDM can produce diverse dark matter distributions in the halos of Draco and Fornax, in agreement with observations,” said Yu, an associate professor of physics and astronomy and a theoretical physicist with expertise in particle properties of dark matter. “In SIDM, the interaction between the subhalos and the Milky Way’s tides leads to more diverse dark matter distributions in the inner regions of subhalos, compared to their CDM counterparts.”

Draco and Fornax have opposite extremes in their inner dark matter contents. Draco has the highest dark matter density among the nine bright Milky Way satellite galaxies Fornax has the lowest. Using advanced astronomical measurements, astrophysicists recently reconstructed their orbital trajectories in the Milky Way’s tidal field.

“Our challenge was to understand the origin of Draco and Fornax’s diverse dark matter distributions in light of these newly measured orbital trajectories,” Yu said. “We found SIDM can provide an explanation after taking into both tidal effects and dark matter self-interactions.”

Study results appear in Physical Review Letters.

Dark matter’s nature remains largely unknown. Unlike normal matter, it does not absorb, reflect, or emit light, making it difficult to detect. Identifying the nature of dark matter is a central task in particle physics and astrophysics.

In CDM, dark matter particles are assumed to be collisionless, and every galaxy sits within a dark matter halo that forms the gravitational scaffolding holding it together. In SIDM, dark matter is proposed to self-interact through a new dark force. Dark matter particles are assumed to strongly collide with one another in the inner halo, close to the galaxy’s center — a process called dark matter self-interaction.

“Our work shows satellite galaxies of the Milky Way may provide important tests of different dark matter theories,” said Sales, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy and an astrophysicist with expertise in numerical simulations of galaxy formation. “We show the interplay between dark matter self-interactions and tidal interactions can produce novel signatures in SIDM that are not expected in the prevailing CDM theory.”

In their work, the researchers mainly used numerical simulations, called “N-body simulations,” and obtained valuable intuition through analytical modeling before running their simulations.

“Our simulations reveal novel dynamics when an SIDM subhalo evolves in the tidal field,” said Omid Sameie, a former UCR graduate student who worked with Yu and Sales and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin working on numerical simulations of galaxy formation. “It was thought observations of Draco were inconsistent with SIDM predictions. But we found a subhalo in SIDM can produce a high dark matter density to explain Draco.”

Sales explained SIDM predicts a unique phenomenon named “core collapse.” In certain circumstances, the inner part of the halo collapses under the influence of gravity and produces a high density. This is contrary to the usual expectation that dark matter self-interactions lead to a low-density halo. Sales said the team’s simulations identify conditions for the core collapse to occur in subhalos.

“To explain Draco’s high dark matter density, its initial halo concentration needs to be high,” she said. “More dark matter mass needs to be distributed in the inner halo. While this is true for both CDM and SIDM, for SIDM the core-collapse phenomenon can only occur if the concentration is high so that the collapse timescale is less than the age of the universe. On the other hand, Fornax has a low-concentrated subhalo, and hence its density remains low.”

The researchers stressed their current work mainly focuses on SIDM and does not make a critical assessment on how well CDM can explain both Draco and Fornax.

After the team used numerical simulations to properly take into account the dynamical interplay between dark matter self-interactions and tidal interactions, the researchers observed a striking result.

“The central dark matter of an SIDM subhalo could be increasing, contrary to usual expectations,” Sameie said. “Importantly, our simulations identify conditions for this phenomenon to occur in SIDM, and we show it can explain observations of Draco.”

The research team plans to extend the study to other satellite galaxies, including ultrafaint galaxies.

Yu, Sales, and Sameie were joined in the study by Mark Vogelsberger of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Jesús Zavala of the University of Iceland. Sameie is the first author of the research paper, which is titled “Self-Interacting Dark Matter Subhalos in the Milky Way’s Tides.”


Astronomers Discover Dwarf Galaxies Orbiting the Milky Way

The Magellanic Clouds and the Auxiliary Telescopes at the Paranal Observatory in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Only 6 of the 9 newly discovered satellites are present in this image. The other three are just outside the field of view. The insets show images of the three most visible objects (Eridanus 1, Horologium 1 and Pictoris 1) and are 13吉 arcminutes on the sky (or 3000� DECam pixels).

Astronomers from the University of Cambridge have identified nine new dwarf satellites orbiting the Milky Way, the largest number ever discovered at once.

Astronomers have discovered a ‘treasure trove’ of rare dwarf satellite galaxies orbiting our own Milky Way. The discoveries could hold the key to understanding dark matter, the mysterious substance which holds our galaxy together.

The new results also mark the first discovery of dwarf galaxies – small celestial objects that orbit larger galaxies – in a decade, after dozens were found in 2005 and 2006 in the skies above the northern hemisphere. The new satellites were found in the southern hemisphere near the Large and Small Magellanic Cloud, the largest and most well-known dwarf galaxies in the Milky Way’s orbit.

The Cambridge findings are being jointly released today with the results of a separate survey by astronomers with the Dark Energy Survey, headquartered at the US Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Both teams used the publicly available data taken during the first year of the Dark Energy Survey to carry out their analysis.

The newly discovered objects are a billion times dimmer than the Milky Way, and a million times less massive. The closest is about 95,000 light years away, while the most distant is more than a million light years away.

According to the Cambridge team, three of the discovered objects are definite dwarf galaxies, while others could be either dwarf galaxies or globular clusters – objects with similar visible properties to dwarf galaxies, but not held together with dark matter.

“The discovery of so many satellites in such a small area of the sky was completely unexpected,” said Dr Sergey Koposov of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, the study’s lead author. “I could not believe my eyes.”

Dwarf galaxies are the smallest galaxy structures observed, the faintest of which contain just 5000 stars – the Milky Way, in contrast, contains hundreds of billions of stars. Standard cosmological models of the universe predict the existence of hundreds of dwarf galaxies in orbit around the Milky Way, but their dimness and small size makes them incredibly difficult to find, even in our own ‘backyard’.

“The large dark matter content of Milky Way satellite galaxies makes this a significant result for both astronomy and physics,” said Alex Drlica-Wagner of Fermilab, one of the leaders of the Dark Energy Survey analysis.

Since they contain up to 99 percent dark matter and just one percent observable matter, dwarf galaxies are ideal for testing whether existing dark matter models are correct. Dark matter – which makes up 25 percent of all matter and energy in our universe – is invisible, and only makes its presence known through its gravitational pull.

“Dwarf satellites are the final frontier for testing our theories of dark matter,” said Dr Vasily Belokurov of the Institute of Astronomy, one of the study’s co-authors. “We need to find them to determine whether our cosmological picture makes sense. Finding such a large group of satellites near the Magellanic Clouds was surprising, though, as earlier surveys of the southern sky found very little, so we were not expecting to stumble on such treasure.”

The closest of these pieces of ‘treasure’ is 97,000 light years away, about halfway to the Magellanic Clouds, and is located in the constellation of Reticulum, or the Reticle. Due to the massive tidal forces of the Milky Way, it is in the process of being torn apart.

The most distant and most luminous of these objects is 1.2 million light years away in the constellation of Eridanus, or the River. It is right on the fringes of the Milky Way, and is about to get pulled in. According to the Cambridge team, it looks to have a small globular cluster of stars, which would make it the faintest galaxy to possess one.

“These results are very puzzling,” said co-author Wyn Evans, also of the Institute of Astronomy. “Perhaps they were once satellites that orbited the Magellanic Clouds and have been thrown out by the interaction of the Small and Large Magellanic Cloud. Perhaps they were once part of a gigantic group of galaxies that – along with the Magellanic Clouds – are falling into our Milky Way galaxy.”

The Dark Energy Survey is a five-year effort to photograph a large portion of the southern sky in unprecedented detail. Its primary tool is the Dark Energy Camera, which – at 570 megapixels – is the most powerful digital camera in the world, able to see galaxies up to eight billion light years from Earth. Built and tested at Fermilab, the camera is now mounted on the four-metre Victor M Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in the Andes Mountains in Chile. The camera includes five precisely shaped lenses, the largest nearly a yard across, designed and fabricated at University College London (UCL) and funded by the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

The Dark Energy Survey is supported by funding from the STFC, the US Department of Energy Office of Science the National Science Foundation funding agencies in Spain, Brazil, Germany and Switzerland and the participating institutions.

The Cambridge research, funded by the European Research Council, will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Publication: Accepted in The Astrophysical Journal

PDF Copy of the Studies:

Image: V. Belokurov, S. Koposov (IoA, Cambridge). Photo: Y. Beletsky (Carnegie Observatories)


Family tree of the Milky Way deciphered

Galaxy merger tree of the Milky Way inferred by applying the insights gained from the E-MOSAICS simulations to the Galactic globular cluster population. The main progenitor of the Milky Way is denoted by the trunk of the tree, coloured by its stellar mass. Black lines indicate the five identified satellites. Grey dotted lines illustrate other mergers that the Milky Way is predicted to have experienced, but could not be linked to a specific progenitor. From left to right, the six images along the top of the figure indicate the identified progenitor galaxies: Sagittarius, Sequoia, Kraken, the Milky Way’s Main progenitor, the progenitor of the Helmi streams, and Gaia-Enceladus-Sausage. Credit: D. Kruijssen / Heidelberg University/Licence type: Attribution (CC BY 4.0)

Scientists have known for some time that galaxies can grow by the merging of smaller galaxies, but the ancestry of our own Milky Way galaxy has been a long-standing mystery. Now, an international team of astrophysicists has succeeded in reconstructing the first complete family tree of our home galaxy by analyzing the properties of globular clusters orbiting the Milky Way with artificial intelligence. The work is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Globular clusters are dense groups of up to a million stars that are almost as old as the Universe itself. The Milky Way hosts over 150 such clusters, many of which formed in the smaller galaxies that merged to form the galaxy that we live in today. Astronomers have suspected for decades that the old ages of globular clusters would mean that they could be used as "fossils" to reconstruct the early assembly histories of galaxies. However it is only with the latest models and observations that it has become possible to realize this promise.

An international team of researchers led by Dr. Diederik Kruijssen at the Center for Astronomy at the University of Heidelberg (ZAH) and Dr. Joel Pfeffer at Liverpool John Moores University has now managed to infer the Milky Way's merger history and reconstruct its family tree, using only its globular clusters.

To achieve this, they developed a suite of advanced computer simulations of the formation of Milky Way-like galaxies. Their simulations, called E-MOSAICS, are unique because they include a complete model for the formation, evolution, and destruction of globular clusters.

In the simulations, the researchers were able to relate the ages, chemical compositions, and orbital motions of globular clusters to the properties of the progenitor galaxies in which they formed, more than 10 billion years ago. By applying these insights to groups of globular clusters in the Milky Way, they could not only determine how many stars these progenitor galaxies contained, but also when they merged into the Milky Way.

"The main challenge of connecting the properties of globular clusters to the merger history of their host galaxy has always been that galaxy assembly is an extremely messy process, during which the orbits of the globular clusters are completely reshuffled," Kruijssen explains.

"To make sense of the complex system that is left today, we therefore decided to use artificial intelligence. We trained an artificial neural network on the E-MOSAICS simulations to relate the globular cluster properties to the host galaxy merger history. We tested the algorithm tens of thousands of times on the simulations and were amazed at how accurately it was able to reconstruct the merger histories of the simulated galaxies, using only their globular cluster populations."

Inspired by this success, the researchers set out to decipher the merger history of the Milky Way. To achieve this, they used groups of globular clusters that are each thought to have formed in the same progenitor galaxy based on their orbital motion. By applying the neural network to these groups of globular clusters, the researchers could not only predict the stellar masses and merger times of the progenitor galaxies to high precision, but it also revealed a previously unknown collision between the Milky Way and an enigmatic galaxy, which the researchers named "Kraken."

"The collision with Kraken must have been the most significant merger the Milky Way ever experienced," Kruijssen adds. "Before, it was thought that a collision with the Gaia-Enceladus-Sausage galaxy, which took place some 9 billion years ago, was the biggest collision event. However, the merger with Kraken took place 11 billion years ago, when the Milky Way was four times less massive. As a result, the collision with Kraken must have truly transformed what the Milky Way looked like at the time."

Taken together, these findings allowed the team of researchers to reconstruct the first complete merger tree of our Galaxy. Over the course of its history, the Milky Way cannibalized about five galaxies with more than 100 million stars, and about fifteen with at least 10 million stars. The most massive progenitor galaxies collided with the Milky Way between 6 and 11 billion years ago.

The researchers expect their predictions to stimulate future studies to search for the remains of these progenitor galaxies. "The debris of more than five progenitor galaxies has now been identified. With current and upcoming telescopes, it should be possible to find them all," Kruijssen concludes.


Astronomers discover unexplainable gas clouds at Milky Way's center

Cold gases shot out of our galaxy's center challenge our understanding of the galactic wind.

The core of the Milky Way is windy and mysterious.

The center of the Milky Way, where our galaxy's supermassive black hole lies, is a weather forecaster's dream. It's easy to remember "always windy." The region is volatile, filled with gas clouds and high-energy particles whipped up by the black hole, Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), and stars close to the galactic center. This creates a wind of gases that shoot out deeper into the galaxy and eventually into the dark void of space.

Astronomers have found evidence for hot, warm and cool gases in the wind, ranging in temperatures from around 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit to as high as almost 2 million degrees Fahrenheit. In a study, published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, researchers report the existence of cold gas clouds, challenging some of the beliefs about the processes in our galaxy's core.

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"The standard explanations for the Milky Way's wind are that it is either driven out by an explosive event associated with the black hole or the winds from supernovae and stars," says Naomi McClure-Griffiths, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University and co-author of the new study.

"Yet, neither of them work to explain these clouds."

McClure-Griffiths notes galactic winds are an important process in the life cycle of galaxies. Understanding what might be happening in our galactic center will help us answer lingering questions about how galaxies evolve over time. To understand what might be happening in the wind surrounding the galactic center, the research team pointed both the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope in the Chilean desert and the Australia Telescope Compact Array at clouds within a region of the galaxy known as the Fermi bubbles.

These bubbles form the outer limits of the galactic wind and are gargantuan, extending about 50,000 light years from the Milky Way's disk. If you could observe the galaxy from the outside, you'd be looking at something akin to a pizza resting on a soccer ball, with a second soccer ball balanced on top of the pizza. Delicious?

The research team analyzed two clouds within the bubbles, known as MW-C1 and MW-C2. By looking for the telltale radio signature of carbon monoxide they could characterize the clouds and resolve some of their features. They discovered the gases were much colder than previously described gases in the Milky Way's wind and we're moving very quickly.

"In terms of temperature, the difference between hot and cold gas is about a factor of 1,000," says McClure-Griffiths. She notes the cold gas is around -350 degrees Fahrenheit and "very dense," which makes it a lot more difficult to move compared to the diffuse, hot gas.

"A way to think of this is that you can blow smoke away from your face but you couldn't blow a rock away from your face," she says.

Studying other galaxies, previous research has shown the presence of cold gas clouds, but they are found in galaxy's unlike our own, with bigger black holes and much great star formation activity. Previously described processes in the Milky Way's center suggest the clouds shouldn't be able to survive being shot out of the core like this, so the discovery is a puzzling one. "We really don't know what's going on now!" notes McClure-Griffiths.

But, she says, her true love is understanding how things work -- and the center of the Milky Way provides a fabulous laboratory to examine how the galactic wind works. Future work will examine more clouds in an effort to resolve how they persist after being rocketed out of the galactic center.

"We have an approved project with the European Southern Observatory on the APEX telescope to look for many more clouds," says McClure-Griffiths. "With a bigger sample over a wider area of the sky we expect to be able to understand what the physical processes are."


Satellite galaxies of the Milky Way help test dark matter theory

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- A research team led by physicists at the University of California, Riverside, reports tiny satellite galaxies of the Milky Way can be used to test fundamental properties of "dark matter" -- nonluminous material thought to constitute 85% of matter in the universe.

Using sophisticated simulations, the researchers show a theory called self-interacting dark matter, or SIDM, can compellingly explain diverse dark matter distributions in Draco and Fornax, two of the Milky Way's more than 50 discovered satellite galaxies.

The prevailing dark matter theory, called Cold Dark Matter, or CDM, explains much of the universe, including how structures emerge in it. But a long-standing challenge for CDM has been to explain the diverse dark matter distributions in galaxies.

The researchers, led by UC Riverside's Hai-Bo Yu and Laura V. Sales, studied the evolution of SIDM "subhalos" in the Milky Way "tidal field" -- the gradient in the gravitational field of the Milky Way that a satellite galaxy feels in the form of a tidal force. Subhalos are dark matter clumps that host the satellite galaxies.

"We found SIDM can produce diverse dark matter distributions in the halos of Draco and Fornax, in agreement with observations," said Yu, an associate professor of physics and astronomy and a theoretical physicist with expertise in particle properties of dark matter. "In SIDM, the interaction between the subhalos and the Milky Way's tides leads to more diverse dark matter distributions in the inner regions of subhalos, compared to their CDM counterparts."

Draco and Fornax have opposite extremes in their inner dark matter contents. Draco has the highest dark matter density among the nine bright Milky Way satellite galaxies Fornax has the lowest. Using advanced astronomical measurements, astrophysicists recently reconstructed their orbital trajectories in the Milky Way's tidal field.

"Our challenge was to understand the origin of Draco and Fornax's diverse dark matter distributions in light of these newly measured orbital trajectories," Yu said. "We found SIDM can provide an explanation after taking into both tidal effects and dark matter self-interactions."

Study results appear in Physical Review Letters.

Dark matter's nature remains largely unknown. Unlike normal matter, it does not absorb, reflect, or emit light, making it difficult to detect. Identifying the nature of dark matter is a central task in particle physics and astrophysics.

In CDM, dark matter particles are assumed to be collisionless, and every galaxy sits within a dark matter halo that forms the gravitational scaffolding holding it together. In SIDM, dark matter is proposed to self-interact through a new dark force. Dark matter particles are assumed to strongly collide with one another in the inner halo, close to the galaxy's center -- a process called dark matter self-interaction.

"Our work shows satellite galaxies of the Milky Way may provide important tests of different dark matter theories," said Sales, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy and an astrophysicist with expertise in numerical simulations of galaxy formation. "We show the interplay between dark matter self-interactions and tidal interactions can produce novel signatures in SIDM that are not expected in the prevailing CDM theory."

In their work, the researchers mainly used numerical simulations, called "N-body simulations," and obtained valuable intuition through analytical modeling before running their simulations.

"Our simulations reveal novel dynamics when an SIDM subhalo evolves in the tidal field," said Omid Sameie, a former UCR graduate student who worked with Yu and Sales and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin working on numerical simulations of galaxy formation. "It was thought observations of Draco were inconsistent with SIDM predictions. But we found a subhalo in SIDM can produce a high dark matter density to explain Draco."

Sales explained SIDM predicts a unique phenomenon named "core collapse." In certain circumstances, the inner part of the halo collapses under the influence of gravity and produces a high density. This is contrary to the usual expectation that dark matter self-interactions lead to a low-density halo. Sales said the team's simulations identify conditions for the core collapse to occur in subhalos.

"To explain Draco's high dark matter density, its initial halo concentration needs to be high," she said. "More dark matter mass needs to be distributed in the inner halo. While this is true for both CDM and SIDM, for SIDM the core-collapse phenomenon can only occur if the concentration is high so that the collapse timescale is less than the age of the universe. On the other hand, Fornax has a low-concentrated subhalo, and hence its density remains low."

The researchers stressed their current work mainly focuses on SIDM and does not make a critical assessment on how well CDM can explain both Draco and Fornax.

After the team used numerical simulations to properly take into account the dynamical interplay between dark matter self-interactions and tidal interactions, the researchers observed a striking result.

"The central dark matter of an SIDM subhalo could be increasing, contrary to usual expectations," Sameie said. "Importantly, our simulations identify conditions for this phenomenon to occur in SIDM, and we show it can explain observations of Draco."

The research team plans to extend the study to other satellite galaxies, including ultrafaint galaxies.

Yu, Sales, and Sameie were joined in the study by Mark Vogelsberger of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Jesús Zavala of the University of Iceland. Sameie is the first author of the research paper.

The research was supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Energy, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA MIRO FIELDS Fellowship, National Science Foundation, the Hellman Fellow Foundation, and Icelandic Research Fund.

The University of California, Riverside (http://www. ucr. edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment is more than 24,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of almost $2 billion. To learn more, email [email protected]

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