Evolution of the Galactic potential and halo streamers with future astrometric satellites

Hongsheng Zhao, Kathryn V Johnston, Lars Hernquist, David N Spergel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


ESA's Global Astrometric Interferometer for Astrophysics (GAIA) holds the promise of mapping out the detailed phase space structure of the Galactic halo by providing unprecedented annual proper motion and parallax of 1-10 mu as astrometric accuracy (Gilmore et al. 1998). Unlike NASA's Space Interferometry Mission (SIM), which will achieve similar accuracies but is a pointed instrument, GAIA will be able to construct a global catalogue of the halo. Here we study proper motions of giant branch stars in a tidal debris torn from a small satellite system in the halo. We follow the evolution of a cold stream on a polar orbit between 8-50 kpc in a variety of histories of the Galactic potential, and observe the bright (V < 18mag) members of the debris tail with GAIA accuracy. We simulate effects due to the growing or flipping of the Galactic disk over the past 3 Gyrs or the perturbation from a massive accreted lump such as the progenitor of the Magellanic Clouds. Our simulations suggest that the results of Johnston, Zhao, Spergel & Hernquist (1999) and Helmi, Zhao & de Zeeuw (1999) for static Galactic potentials are likely to be largely generalizable to realistic time-dependent potentials: a tidal debris remains cold in spite of evolution and non-axial symmetry of the potential. GAIA proper motion measurements of debris stars might be used to probe both Galactic structure and Galactic history. We also study several other factors influencing our ability to identify streams, including accuracy of radial velocity and parallax data from GAIA, and contamination from random field stars. We conclude that nearby, cold streams could be detected with GAIA if these cousins of the Sagittarius stream exist.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)L49-L53
Number of pages5
JournalAstronomy & Astrophysics
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1999


  • Galaxy : evolution
  • Galaxy : formation
  • Galaxy : halo
  • Galaxy : kinematics and dynamics
  • Galaxy : structure
  • celestial mechanics, stellar dynamics


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