Structure of the galactic stellar halo prior to disk formation

Masashi Chiba, Timothy C. Beers

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46 Citations (Scopus)


We develop a method for recovering the global density distribution of the ancient Galactic stellar halo prior to disk formation based on the present orbits of metal-poor stars observed in the solar neighborhood. The method relies on the adiabatic invariance of the action integrals of motion for the halo population during the slow accumulation of a disk component subsequent to earlier halo formation. The method is then applied to a sample of local stars with [Fe/H] ≤ -1.5, which are likely to be dominated by the halo component, taken from Beers et al.'s recently revised and supplemented catalog of metalpoor stars selected without kinematic bias. We find that even if the Galactic potential is made spherical by removing the disk component in an adiabatic manner, the halo density distribution in the inner halo region (R ≤ 15 kpc) remains moderately flattened, with an axial ratio of about 0.8 for stars in the abundance range [Fe/H] ≤ -1.8 and about 0.7 for the more metal-rich interval -1.8 < [Fe/H] ≤ -1.5. The outer halo remains spherical for both abundance intervals. We also find that this initial flattening of the inner halo is caused by the anisotropic velocity dispersions of the halo stars. These results suggest that the two-component nature of the present-day stellar halo, characterized by a highly flattened inner halo and nearly spherical outer halo, is a consequence of both an initially two-component density distribution of the halo (perhaps a signature of dissipative halo formation) and of the adiabatic flattening of the inner part by later disk formation. Further implications of our results for the formation of the Galaxy are also discussed, in particular in the context of the hierarchical clustering scenario of galaxy formation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)325-336
Number of pages12
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 PART 1
Publication statusPublished - 2001 Mar 1
Externally publishedYes


  • Galaxy: abundances
  • Galaxy: evolution
  • Galaxy: halo
  • Stars: Population II

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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