skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Thursday, June 13 until 2:00 AM ET on Friday, June 14 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Title: High-resolution Chemical Abundances of the Nyx Stream

Nyx is a nearby, prograde, and high-eccentricity stellar stream physically contained in the thick disk, but its origin is unknown. Nyx could be the remnant of a disrupted dwarf galaxy, in which case the associated dark matter substructure could affect terrestrial dark matter direct-detection experiments. Alternatively, Nyx could be a signature of the Milky Way’s disk formation and evolution. To determine the origin of Nyx, we obtained high-resolution spectroscopy of 34 Nyx stars using Keck/HIRES and Magellan/MIKE. A differential chemical abundance analysis shows that most Nyx stars reside in a metal-rich ([Fe/H] > −1) high-αcomponent that is chemically indistinguishable from the thick disk. This rules out the originally suggested scenario that Nyx is the remnant of a single massive dwarf galaxy merger. However, we also identify 5 substantially more metal-poor stars ([Fe/H] ∼ −2.0) whose chemical abundances are similar to those of the metal-weak thick disk. It remains unclear how stars that are chemically identical to the thick disk can be on such prograde, high-eccentricity orbits. We suggest two most likely scenarios: that Nyx is the result of an early minor dwarf galaxy merger, or that it is a record of the early spin-up of the Milky Way disk—although neither perfectly reproduces the chemodynamic observations. The most likely formation scenarios suggest that future spectroscopic surveys should find Nyx-like structures outside of the solar neighborhood.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
DOI PREFIX: 10.3847
Date Published:
Journal Name:
The Astrophysical Journal
Medium: X Size: Article No. 129
["Article No. 129"]
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. We investigate the inner regions of the Milky Way using data from APOGEE and Gaia EDR3. Our inner Galactic sample has more than 26 500 stars within | X Gal |< 5 kpc, | Y Gal |< 3.5 kpc, | Z Gal |< 1 kpc, and we also carry out the analysis for a foreground-cleaned subsample of 8000 stars that is more representative of the bulge–bar populations. These samples allow us to build chemo-dynamical maps of the stellar populations with vastly improved detail. The inner Galaxy shows an apparent chemical bimodality in key abundance ratios [ α /Fe], [C/N], and [Mn/O], which probe different enrichment timescales, suggesting a star formation gap (quenching) between the high- and low- α populations. Using a joint analysis of the distributions of kinematics, metallicities, mean orbital radius, and chemical abundances, we can characterize the different populations coexisting in the innermost regions of the Galaxy for the first time. The chemo-kinematic data dissected on an eccentricity–| Z | max plane reveal the chemical and kinematic signatures of the bar, the thin inner disc, and an inner thick disc, and a broad metallicity population with large velocity dispersion indicative of a pressure-supported component. The interplay between these different populations is mapped onto the different metallicity distributions seen in the eccentricity–| Z | max diagram consistently with the mean orbital radius and V ϕ distributions. A clear metallicity gradient as a function of | Z | max is also found, which is consistent with the spatial overlapping of different populations. Additionally, we find and chemically and kinematically characterize a group of counter-rotating stars that could be the result of a gas-rich merger event or just the result of clumpy star formation during the earliest phases of the early disc that migrated into the bulge. Finally, based on 6D information, we assign stars a probability value of being on a bar orbit and find that most of the stars with large bar orbit probabilities come from the innermost 3 kpc, with a broad dispersion of metallicity. Even stars with a high probability of belonging to the bar show chemical bimodality in the [ α /Fe] versus [Fe/H] diagram. This suggests bar trapping to be an efficient mechanism, explaining why stars on bar orbits do not show a significant, distinct chemical abundance ratio signature. 
    more » « less
  2. Abstract We have developed a chemodynamical approach to assign 36,010 metal-poor SkyMapper stars to various Galactic stellar populations. Using two independent techniques (velocity and action space behavior), Gaia EDR3 astrometry, and photometric metallicities, we selected stars with the characteristics of the “metal-weak” thick-disk population by minimizing contamination by the canonical thick disk or other Galactic structures. This sample comprises 7127 stars, spans a metallicity range of −3.50 < [Fe/H] < −0.8, and has a systematic rotational velocity of 〈 V ϕ 〉 = 154 km s −1 that lags that of the thick disk. Orbital eccentricities have intermediate values between typical thick-disk and halo values. The scale length is h R = 2.48 − 0.05 + 0.05 kpc, and the scale height is h Z = 1.68 − 0.15 + 0.19 kpc. The metallicity distribution function is well fit by an exponential with a slope of Δ log N / Δ [ Fe / H ] = 1.13 ± 0.06 . Overall, we find a significant metal-poor component consisting of 261 SkyMapper stars with [Fe/H] < −2.0. While our sample contains only 11 stars with [Fe/H] ≲ −3.0, investigating the JINAbase compilation of metal-poor stars reveals another 18 such stars (five have [Fe/H] < −4.0) that kinematically belong to our sample. These distinct spatial, kinematic, and chemical characteristics strongly suggest that this metal-poor, phase-mixed kinematic sample represents an independent disk component with an accretion origin in which a massive dwarf galaxy radially plunged into the early Galactic disk. Going forward, we propose to call the metal-weak thick-disk population the Atari disk, given its likely accretion origin, and in reference to it sharing space with the Galactic thin and thick disks. 
    more » « less
  3. null (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT In this work, we combine spectroscopic information from the SkyMapper survey for Extremely Metal-Poor stars and astrometry from Gaia DR2 to investigate the kinematics of a sample of 475 stars with a metallicity range of $-6.5 \le \rm [Fe/H] \le -2.05$ dex. Exploiting the action map, we identify 16 and 40 stars dynamically consistent with the Gaia Sausage and Gaia Sequoia accretion events, respectively. The most metal poor of these candidates have metallicities of $\rm [Fe/H]=-3.31\, \mathrm{ and }\, -3.74$, respectively, helping to define the low-metallicity tail of the progenitors involved in the accretion events. We also find, consistent with other studies, that ∼21 per cent of the sample have orbits that remain confined to within 3 kpc of the Galactic plane, that is, |Zmax| ≤ 3 kpc. Of particular interest is a subsample (∼11 per cent of the total) of low |Zmax| stars with low eccentricities and prograde motions. The lowest metallicity of these stars has [Fe/H] = –4.30 and the subsample is best interpreted as the very low-metallicity tail of the metal-weak thick disc population. The low |Zmax|, low eccentricity stars with retrograde orbits are likely accreted, while the low |Zmax|, high eccentricity pro- and retrograde stars are plausibly associated with the Gaia Sausage system. We find that a small fraction of our sample (∼4 per cent of the total) is likely escaping from the Galaxy, and postulate that these stars have gained energy from gravitational interactions that occur when infalling dwarf galaxies are tidally disrupted. 
    more » « less
  4. null (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT In hierarchical structure formation, metal-poor stars in and around the Milky Way (MW) originate primarily from mergers of lower mass galaxies. A common expectation is therefore that metal-poor stars should have isotropic, dispersion-dominated orbits that do not correlate strongly with the MW disc. However, recent observations of stars in the MW show that metal-poor ($\rm {[Fe/H]}\lesssim -2$) stars are preferentially on prograde orbits with respect to the disc. Using the Feedback In Realistic Environments 2 (FIRE-2) suite of cosmological zoom-in simulations of MW/M31-mass galaxies, we investigate the prevalence and origin of prograde metal-poor stars. Almost all (11 of 12) of our simulations have metal-poor stars on preferentially prograde orbits today and throughout most of their history: we thus predict that this is a generic feature of MW/M31-mass galaxies. The typical prograde-to-retrograde ratio is ∼2:1, which depends weakly on stellar metallicity at $\rm {[Fe/H]}\lesssim -1$. These trends predicted by our simulations agree well with MW observations. Prograde metal-poor stars originate largely from a single Large/Small Magellanic Cloud (LMC/SMC)-mass gas-rich merger $7\!-\!12.5\, \rm {Gyr}$ ago, which deposited existing metal-poor stars and significant gas on an orbital vector that sparked the formation of and/or shaped the orientation of a long-lived stellar disc, giving rise to a prograde bias for all low-metallicity stars. We find subdominant contributions from in situ stars formed in the host galaxy before this merger, and in some cases, additional massive mergers. We find few clear correlations between any properties of our MW/M31-mass galaxies at z = 0 and the degree of this prograde bias as a result of diverse merger scenarios. 
    more » « less
  5. The lowest luminosity ([Formula: see text] L[Formula: see text]) Milky Way satellite galaxies represent the extreme lower limit of the galaxy luminosity function. These ultra-faint dwarfs are the oldest, most dark matter–dominated, most metal-poor, and least chemically evolved stellar systems known. They therefore provide unique windows into the formation of the first galaxies and the behavior of dark matter on small scales. In this review, we summarize the discovery of ultra-faint dwarfs in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey in 2005 and the subsequent observational and theoretical progress in understanding their nature and origin. We describe their stellar kinematics, chemical abundance patterns, structural properties, stellar populations, orbits, and luminosity function, as well as what can be learned from each type of measurement. We conclude the following: ▪ In most cases, the stellar velocity dispersions of ultra-faint dwarfs are robust against systematic uncertainties such as binary stars and foreground contamination. ▪ The chemical abundance patterns of stars in ultra-faint dwarfs require two sources of r-process elements, one of which can likely be attributed to neutron star mergers. ▪ Even under conservative assumptions, only a small fraction of ultra-faint dwarfs may have suffered significant tidal stripping of their stellar components. ▪ Determining the properties of the faintest dwarfs out to the virial radius of the Milky Way will require very large investments of observing time with future telescopes. Finally, we offer a look forward at the observations that will be possible with future facilities as the push toward a complete census of the Local Group dwarf galaxy population continues. 
    more » « less