The Sagittarius tidal stream and the shape of the galactic stellar halo

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Newby, Matthew
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Electronic thesis
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Fits to the Sgr stream in 18 SDSS data stripes were performed, and a continuous density profile is found for the major Sgr stream. The stellar halo is found to be strongly oblate (flattening parameter q=0.53). A catalog of stars consistent with this density profile is produced as a template for matching future disruption models. The results of this analysis favor a description of the Sgr debris system that includes more than one dwarf galaxy progenitor, with the major streams above and below the Galactic disk being separate substructures. Preliminary results for the minor tidal stream characterizations are presented and discussed. Additionally, a more robust characterization of halo turnoff star brightnesses is performed, and it is found that increasing color errors with distance result in a previously unaccounted for incompleteness in star counts as the SDSS magnitude limit is approached. These corrections are currently in the process of being implemented on MilkyWay@home.
This thesis is primarily concerned with characterizing the 3-dimensional stellar densities of the Sgr tidal debris system and the smooth stellar halo, using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). F turnoff stars are used to infer distances, as they are relatively bright, numerous, and distributed about a single intrinsic brightness (magnitude). The inherent spread in brightnesses of these stars is overcome through the use of the recently-developed technique of statistical photometric parallax, in which the bulk properties of a stellar population are used to create a probability distribution for a given star's distance. This was used to build a spatial density model for the smooth stellar halo and tidal streams. The free parameters in this model are then fit to SDSS data with a maximum likelihood technique, and the parameters are optimized by advanced computational methods. Several computing platforms are used in this study, including the RPI SUR Bluegene and the Milkyway@home volunteer computing project.
The stellar halo that surrounds our Galaxy contains clues to understanding galaxy formation, cosmology, stellar evolution, and the nature of dark matter. Gravitationally disrupted dwarf galaxies form tidal streams, which roughly trace orbits through the Galactic halo. The Sagittarius (Sgr) dwarf tidal debris is the most dominant of these streams, and its properties place important constraints on the distribution of mass (including dark matter) in the Galaxy. Stars not associated with substructures form the "smooth" component of the stellar halo, the origin of which is still under investigation. Characterizing halo substructures such as the Sgr stream and the smooth halo provides valuable information on the formation history and evolution of our galaxy, and places constraints on cosmological models.
August 2013
School of Science
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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
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