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Very metal-poor stars ([Fe/H] < –2.0) inform our understanding of the formation and evolution of the Galaxy, and the physical conditions in the earliest star-forming environments of the Universe. They play an integral part in the paradigms of stellar populations, stellar archaeology, and near-field cosmology. We review the carbon-rich and carbon-normal sub-populations of the most iron-poor stars, providing insight into chemical enrichment at the earliest times in the Universe. We also discuss the role of very metal-poor stars in providing insight into the Galaxy’s halo, thick disk, and bulge, and the promise they hold for the future. A comparison between the abundances obtained for the nine most Fe-poor stars ([Fe/H] < –4.5) (all but one of which is C-rich) with abundances obtained from far-field cosmology suggests that the former are the most chemically primitive objects yet observed and probably older than the DLA- and sub-DLA systems for which data are currently available from far-field studies.
Much progress has been achieved in the age-dating of old stellar systems, and even of individual stars in the field, in the more than sixty years since the evolution of low-mass stars was first correctly described. In this paper, I provide an overview of some of the main methods that have been used in this context, and discuss some of the issues that still affect the determination of accurate ages for the oldest stars.
Very metal-poor (VMP) stars preserve chemical signatures of early generations of stars, and are crutial to understand the early nucleosynthesis and first stars. Millions of stellar spectra obtained by LAMOST provide an unprecedented chance to enlarge the currently limited VMP star sample. Since 2014, a joint project on searching for VMP stars has been conducted based on the LAMOST survey and Subaru follow-up observations. So far, the project has obtained chemical abundances for about 250 VMP stars and a number of chemically interesting objects, e.g., three ultra metal-poor stars with [Fe/H] ~ − 4.0, a dozen Li-rich VMP stars distributed in a wide range of evolutionary stages. Statistics of the large homogeneous sample of VMP stars will be of great interest and importance to probe the chemical enrichment in the early Galaxy and low-mass star evolution.
Milky Way globular clusters are excellent laboratories for stellar population detailed analysis that can be applied to extragalactic environments with the advent of the 40m-class telescopes like the ELT. The globular cluster population traces the early evolution of the Milky Way which is the field of Galactic archaeology. We present our GlObular clusTer Homogeneous Abundance Measurement (GOTHAM) survey. We derived radial velocities, Teff, log(g), [Fe/H], [Mg/Fe] for red giant stars in one third of all Galactic globular clusters that represent well the Milky Way globular cluster system in terms of metallicity, mass, reddening, and distance. Our method is based on low-resolution spectroscopy and is intrinsically reddening free and efficient even for faint stars. Our [Fe/H] determinations agree with high-resolution results to within 0.08 dex. The GOTHAM survey provides a new metallicity scale for Galactic globular clusters with a significant update of metallicities higher than [Fe/H] > -0.7. We show that the trend of [Mg/Fe] with metallicity is not constant as previously found, because now we have more metal-rich clusters. Moreover, peculiar clusters whose [Mg/Fe] does not match Galactic stars for a given metallicity are discussed. We also measured the CaII triplet index for all stars and we show that the different chemical evolution of Milky Way open clusters, field stars, and globular clusters implies different calibrations of calcium triplet to metallicity.
The stellar spheroidal components of the Milky-Way contain the oldest and most metal poor of its stars. Inevitably the processes governing the early stages of Galaxy evolution are imprinted upon them. According to the currently favoured hierarchical bottom-up scenario of galaxy formation, these components, specially the Galactic halo, are the repository of most of the mass built up from accretion events in those early stages. These events are still going on today, as attested by the long stellar streams associated to the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy and several other observed tidal substructure, whose geometry, extent, and kinematics are important constraints to reconstruct the MW gravitational potential and infer its total (visible + dark) mass. In addition, the remaining system of MW satellites is expected to be a fossil record of the much larger population of Galactic building blocks that once existed and got accreted. For all these reasons, it is crucial to unravel as much of this remaining population as possible, as well as the current stellar streams that orbit within the halo. The best bet to achieve this task is to carry out wide, deep, and multi-band photometric surveys that provide homogeneous stellar samples. In this contribution, we summarize the results of several years of work towards detecting and characterizing distant MW stellar systems, star clusters and dwarf spheroidals alike, with an emphasis on the analysis of data from the Dark Energy Survey (DES). We argue that most of the volume in distance, size and luminosity space, both in the Galaxy and in the Clouds, is still unprobed. We then discuss the perspectives of exploring this outer MW volume using the current surveys, as well as other current and future surveys, such as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST).
We test the hypothesis that the classical and ultra-faint dwarf spheroidal satellites of the our Galaxy have been the building blocks of the Galactic halo by comparing their [O/Fe] and [Ba/Fe] vs. [Fe/H] patterns with the ones observed in Galactic halo stars. The [O/Fe] ratio deviates substantially from the observed abundance ratios in the Galactic halo stars for [Fe/H] > -2 dex, while they overlap for lower metallicities. On the other hand, for the neutron capture elements, the discrepancy is extended at all the metallicities, suggesting that the majority of stars in the halo are likely to have been formed in situ. We present the results for a model considering the effects of an enriched gas stripped from dwarf satellites on the chemical evolution of the Galactic halo. We find that the resulting chemical abundances of the halo stars depend on the adopted infall time-scale, and the presence of a threshold in the gas for star formation.
The Galactic halo has a complex assembly history, which can be seen in its wealth of kinematic and chemical substructure. Globular clusters lose stars through tidal interactions with the Galaxy and cluster evaporation processes, meaning that they are inevitably a source of halo stars. These “migrants” from globular clusters can be recognized in the halo field by the characteristic light element abundance anticorrelations that are commonly observed only in globular cluster stars, and the number of halo stars that can be chemically tagged to globular clusters can be used to place limits on the formation pathways of those clusters.
Dedicated wide-field surveys have uncovered a variety of debris features and stellar streams in the halos of the Milky Way and M31. I briefly compare these perspectives and discuss how observations of the peripheral regions of M31 can help shape our current understanding of the Milky Way. Much complexity resides in the outer halos of both systems in terms of overlapping structures, and I conclude by briefly highlighting some ongoing work to characterise a narrow tidal stream in the vicinity of the ultra-faint satellite Segue 1.
The globular cluster (GC) system of the Milky Way (MW) provides important information on the MW’s present structure and past evolution. Full 3d motions, accessed through proper motions (PMs), are required to calculate accurate orbits of GCs in the MW halo. We present our HST program to create a PM database for 20 halo GCs. We demonstrate how the observed PMs of individual GCs can be used to study their origins, and we also describe how the PM measurements of our entire targets can be used to constrain the anisotropy profile. Finally, we describe how our PM results can be used for Gaia as an external check, and discuss prospects of PM measurements with HST and Gaia in the coming years.
The Pristine survey uses narrow-band photometry on the region of the Ca II H & K absorption lines to find extremely metal-poor stars. With a spectroscopic follow-up sample of 205 stars in the magnitude range 14 < V < 18, we compute the success rates for finding extremely metal-poor stars and modify the selection criteria used to select stars for follow-up. This reduces the sample to 149 stars, and from these we report success rates of 22% for recovering stars with [Fe/H] < −3.0 and 70% for [Fe/H] < −2.5. When compared to previous works that search for extremely metal-poor stars, the success rates of Pristine
show an improvement in efficiency by a factor of ~4 − 5.
Surveys of pulsating stars in the inner Galaxy have been very limited, but recent large-scale surveys are rapidly bringing us new samples of various kinds of variable stars and new insights into stellar populations therein. Because of the severe interstellar extinction along the Galactic disc, the stellar populations in the inner Galaxy are more easily observed in the infrared, but even in the infrared the interstellar extinction may cause a serious problem in revealing their accurate characteristics. Here we review recent discoveries of Cepheids and Miras, two kinds of luminous pulsating stars with period–luminosity relation, in the inner Galaxy.
I present examples of how chemo-dynamical N-body simulations can help understanding the structure and evolution of the inner Galaxy. Such simulations reproduce the observed links between kinematics, morphology and chemistry in the bar/bulge region and explain them by the self-consistent cohabitation of a number of components. Galactic archaeology, applied to simulation snapshots, explains the sequence in which the stars of the various components were formed. The thick disc stars form earlier than those of the thin disc and in a much shorter time scale. The bar in the thick disc is horizontally thicker than that of the thin disc and has a different vertical morphology. The Galaxy’s inner disc scalelength is much smaller than what is expected from nearby galaxies of similar stellar mass.
The Milky Way is a barred galaxy whose central bulge has a box/peanut shape and consists of multiple stellar populations with different orbit distributions. This review describes dynamical and chemo-dynamical equilibrium models for the Bulge, Bar, and inner Disk based on recent survey data. Some of the highlighted results include (i) stellar mass determinations for the different Galactic components, (ii) the need for a core in the dark matter distribution, (iii) a revised pattern speed putting corotation at ~6 kpc, (iv) the strongly barred distribution of the metal-rich stars, and (v) the radially varying dynamics of the metal-poor stars which is that of a thick disk-bar outside ~1 kpc, but changes into an inner centrally concentrated component with several possible origins. On-going and future surveys will refine this picture, making the Milky Way a unique case for studying how similar galaxies form and evolve.
Owing to their extreme crowding and high and variable extinction, stars in the Galactic Bulge, within ±2° of the Galactic plane, and especially those in the Nuclear Star Cluster, have only rarely been targeted for an analyses of their detailed abundances. There is also some disagreement about the high end of the abundance scale for these stars. It is now possible to obtain high dispersion, high S/N spectra in the infrared K band (~2.0 − 2.4 µm) for these giants; we report our progress at Keck and VLT in using these spectra to infer the composition of this stellar population.
The four main findings about the age and abundance structure of the Milky Way bulge based on microlensed dwarf and subgiant stars are: (1) a wide metallicity distribution with distinct peaks at [Fe/H] = -1.09, -0.63, -0.20, +0.12, +0.41; (2) a high fraction of intermediate-age to young stars where at [Fe/H] > 0 more than 35 % are younger than 8 Gyr, (3) several episodes of significant star formation in the bulge 3, 6, 8, and 11 Gyr ago; (4) the ‘knee’ in the α-element abundance trends of the sub-solar metallicity bulge appears to be located at a slightly higher [Fe/H] (about 0.05 to 0.1 dex) than in the local thick disk.
We have measured the IMF of the inner Galaxy using ~3000 OGLE-III microlensing events. Each event’s timescale depends on both the lens mass, and the velocities and distances of the lens and source. New dynamical models were used provide the distribution of distances and velocities, and thereby measure the lens mass distribution. Using a power-law or log-normal parameterisation the resultant IMF is indistinguishable from local measurements by Kroupa or Chabrier respectively. The lenses lie in the inner Galaxy where the stars are mostly ~10 Gyr old and formed on a fast α-element enhanced timescale thereby constraining IMF variability with the properties of the collapsing gas cloud. Furthermore microlensing measures the stellar mass budget, including dark remnants, to low mass. Stars contribute most of the mass in the inner Galaxy with a low fraction remaining for dark matter. Reconciling this with local dark matter estimates requires a core or shallow cusp in its profile.
Recently the search for the oldest stars have started to focus on the Bulge region. The Galactic bulge hosts extremely old stars, with ages compatible with the ages of the oldest halo stars. The data coming from these recent observations present new chemical signatures and therefore provide complementary constraints to those already found in the halo. So, the study of the oldest bulge stars can improve dramatically the constraints on the nature of first stars and how they polluted the pristine ISM of our Galaxy. We present our first results regarding the light elements (CNO) and the neutron capture elements. Our findings in the oldest bulge stars support the scenario where the first stellar generations have been fast rotators.
The SDSS Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment (APOGEE) has collected high resolution near-IR spectra for several hundred thousand stars throughout the Milky Way. We review some of the results related to chemistry of stars in the disk, where APOGEE has a particular advantage by virtue of being able to work in more obscured areas. The ability to measure carbon and nitrogen abundances in giants in the near-IR provides insight into stellar ages. We summarize results on the variation of mean metallicity, metallicity distribution functions, and the [α/Fe]–[Fe/H] relation across the Galactic disk, as well as results on the structural parameters in mono-abundance populations. Many of these results suggest that radial migration has played a significant role in the Galactic disk. It may be possible to disentangle radial mixing using multi-element abundance patterns.
From the derived stellar density profile using LAMOST giant stars, we find that the Galactic disk does not show truncation or break, but smoothly transit to the halo from 19 kpc. The scale length of the outer disk is only 1.6 ± 0.1 kpc, substantially smaller than previous results. This implies that the shapes of the inner and outer disk are different. Meanwhile, the disk flaring is not only found in older populations, but also in younger population. Moreover, the vertical oscillations of the disk are identified in a wide range or R from 8 to 14 kpc. We also find that the velocity dispersion profile as a function of the Galactocentric radius is flat with scale length of 26.3 ± 3.2 kpc. We confirm that the radial velocity profile in outer disk is significantly affected by asymmetric motion. The bar with either a slower or a faster pattern speed can induce the similar radial asymmetric motion.
The 5th RAVE data release is based on 520,781 spectra (R ≈ 7500 in the CaT region at 8410 - 8795Å) of 457,588 unique stars. RAVE DR5 provides radial velocities, stellar parameters and individual abundances for up to seven elements and distances found using isochrones for a considerable subset of these objects. In particular, RAVE DR5 has 255,922 stellar observations that also have parallaxes and proper motions from the Tycho-Gaia astrometric solution (TGAS) in Gaia DR1. The combination of RAVE and TGAS thus provides the currently largest overlap of spectroscopic and space-based astrometric data and thus can serve as a formidable preview of what Gaia is going to deliver in coming data releases. Basic properties of the RAVE+TGAS survey and its derived data products are presented as well as first applications w.r.t wave-like patterns in the disk structure. An outlook to the 6th RAVE data release is given.