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Title: Distant Echoes of the Milky Way’s Last Major Merger

The majority of the Milky Way’s stellar halo consists of debris from our galaxy’s last major merger, the Gaia-Sausage-Enceladus (GSE). In the past few years, stars from the GSE have been kinematically and chemically studied in the inner 30 kpc of our galaxy. However, simulations predict that accreted debris could lie at greater distances, forming substructures in the outer halo. Here we derive metallicities and distances using Gaia DR3 XP spectra for an all-sky sample of luminous red giant stars, and map the outer halo with kinematics and metallicities out to 100 kpc. We obtain follow-up spectra of stars in two strong overdensities—including the previously identified outer Virgo Overdensity—and find them to be relatively metal rich and on predominantly retrograde orbits, matching predictions from simulations of the GSE merger. We argue that these are apocentric shells of GSE debris, forming 60–90 kpc counterparts to the 15–20 kpc shells that are known to dominate the inner stellar halo. Extending our search across the sky with literature radial velocities, we find evidence for a coherent stream of retrograde stars encircling the Milky Way from 50 to 100 kpc, in the same plane as the Sagittarius Stream but moving in the opposite direction. These are the first discoveries of distant and structured imprints from the GSE merger, cementing the picture of an inclined and retrograde collision that built up our galaxy’s stellar halo.

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DOI PREFIX: 10.3847
Date Published:
Journal Name:
The Astrophysical Journal
Medium: X Size: Article No. 26
["Article No. 26"]
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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