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Tracer populations in the local group



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Watkins, Laura Louise 


So often in astronomy, an object is not considered for its individual merits, but for what we may learn from its properties regarding some larger population. The existence of dark matter is a prime example of this; we cannot see it directly but we can infer its presence by noting its effects on the stars orbiting within its potential. This thesis describes how various sets of tracer populations can be used to probe the properties of a variety of galaxies in the Local Group.

I begin by describing the extraction of a variable catalogue from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Stripe 82 dataset and then use the catalogue to select a high-quality set of RR Lyrae stars. Analysing the distribution of the RR Lyraes reveals three significant substructures in the Milky Way halo: the Hercules-Aquila Cloud and the Sagittarius Stream, which were already known to exist, and the Pisces Overdensity, which was previously undetected. It is a faint, extended structure found at ~80 kpc and is of unknown origin. Altogether, I find that nearly 80% of the RR Lyraes are associated with substructures, consistent with the theory that galaxy halos are predominantly, or even entirely, made up from disrupted satellites. I also investigate the density distribution of RR Lyraes in the halo, finding that it is best fit by a broken-power-law model, in good agreement with previous work.

I go on to develop a set of tracer mass estimators that build on previous work which make use of actual (and not projected) distance and proper motion data, reflecting the amount and quality of data now available to us. I show that proper motion data is, in theory, very useful and can greatly increase the accuracy of the mass estimates; in practice, however, current analysis is hampered by the large errors inherent in the proper motion data. The results are also subject to mass-anisotropy degeneracy, which current data is not yet able to break. Nevertheless, I am able to estimate the mass of the Milky Way to be M = 2.7 +/- 0.5 x 10^12 Msun and the mass of M31 to be M = 1.5 +/- 0.4 x 10^12 Msun.

Andromeda XII and Andromeda XIV are two M31 satellites that have been dubbed "extreme" and are thought to be on first infall into the M31 system. I modify the classical Timing Argument so that it can be applied to two external galaxies and then apply it to M31 and each of And XII and And XIV in turn to investigate the properties of their orbits. I then run a series of Monte Carlo simulations to investigate how likely such satellites are to exist and conclude that they are not as unusual as previously believed.

Finally, I discuss three upcoming wide-field, all-sky surveys and their implications for the future of the study of the Local Group.





Galactic archaeology, Near-field cosmology, Halo substructure, Galaxy mass estimates


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge