1932

Abstract

Studies of stellar populations, understood to mean collections of stars with common spatial, kinematic, chemical, and/or age distributions, have been reinvigorated during the past decade by the advent of large-area sky surveys such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Two-Micron All Sky Survey, the Radial Velocity Experiment, and others. We review recent analyses of these data that, together with theoretical and modeling advances, are revolutionizing our understanding of the nature of the Milky Way and galaxy formation and evolution in general. The formation of galaxies like the Milky Way was long thought to be a steady process leading to a smooth distribution of stars. However, the abundance of substructure in the multidimensional space of various observables, such as position, kinematics, and metallicity, is now proven beyond doubt and demonstrates the importance of mergers in the growth of galaxies. Unlike smooth models that involve simple components, the new data reviewed here clearly exhibit many irregular structures, such as the Sagittarius dwarf tidal stream and the Virgo and Pisces overdensities in the halo and the Monoceros stream closer to the Galactic plane. These recent developments have made it clear that the Milky Way is a complex and dynamic structure, one that is still being shaped by the merging of neighboring smaller galaxies. We also briefly discuss the next generation of wide-field sky surveys, such as SkyMapper, Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System, , and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, which will improve measurement precision manyfold and include billions of individual stars. The ultimate goal, development of a coherent and detailed story of the assembly and evolutionary history of the Milky Way and other large spirals like it, now appears well within reach.

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/content/journals/10.1146/annurev-astro-081811-125504
2012-09-22
2024-04-19
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  • Article Type: Review Article
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