Inferring the Galactic gravitational potential with Gaia and friends

Robyn Ellyn Sanderson, Johanna Hartke, Amina Helmi, David W. Hogg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademic


In the coming decade the Gaia satellite will measure the positions and velocities of an unprecedented number of stars in our Galaxy, with unprecedented precision. Among many firsts, this revolutionary new data set will include full six-dimensional phase space information for millions of stars in the Galactic halo, including stars in many tidal streams. These streams, the products of hierarchical accretion, can be used to infer the Galactic gravitational potential thanks to the common origin of the stars in each one. We present a method for doing so by maximizing the information content (i.e. clumpiness) of the action space of the stream stars. This statistical approach eliminates the need to assign stars to particular streams. Using a toy model of the stellar halo in a known potential, and including updated error models for Gaia, we show that ground-based spectroscopic follow-up of faint halo stars is essential to complete the six-dimensional Gaia catalog and properly constrain the scale radius of the potential. By fitting a spherical NFW potential to streams in a cosmologically simulated halo, we show how oversimplification of the potential model affects fit results. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Award No. AST-1400989.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-36
Number of pages1
JournalBulletin of the American Astronomical Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1-Jan-2015
EventAmerican Astronomical Society, AAS Meeting #225, #119.02 - Seattle, Washington, United States
Duration: 4-Jan-20158-Jan-2015

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