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An international team led by researchers from Tohoku University has
found an extremely faint dwarf satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. The
team's discovery is part of the ongoing Subaru Strategic Survey using
Hyper Suprime-Cam. The satellite, named Virgo I, lies in the direction
of the constellation Virgo. At the absolute magnitude of -0.8 in the
optical waveband (Note),
it may well be the faintest satellite galaxy yet found. Its discovery
suggests the presence of a large number of yet-undetected dwarf
satellites in the halo of the Milky Way and provides important insights
into galaxy formation through hierarchical assembly of dark matter.
Figure 1: The position of Virgo I in the constellation of Virgo (left). The right panel shows a density map of Virgo I's member stars in a 0.1 deg x 0.1 deg area, based on the stars located inside the green zone in the color-magnitude diagram of Virgo I shown in Figure 4. The color range from blue -> white -> yellow -> red indicates increasing density. (Credit: Tohoku University/National Astronomical Observation of Japan)
An animation showing locations of Milky Way Galaxy's satellite
galaxies, featuring the newly discovered Virgo I. An image captured from
the animation is shown here.
The computer graphics was created using Mitaka, a four-dimensional
digital universe viewer. In the image from the Subaru Telescope, Green
circles denote the member candidate stars that might belong to Virgo I.
Currently, some 50 satellite galaxies to the Milky Way have been identified. About 40 of them are faint and diffuse and belong to the category of so-called "dwarf spheroidal galaxies" (Figure 2). Many recently discovered dwarf galaxies, especially those seen in systematic photometric surveys such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) and the Dark Energy Survey (DES) are very faint with absolute luminosity in the optical waveband below -8 magnitude. These are so-called "ultra-faint dwarf galaxies". However, previous searches made use of telescopes with a diameter of 2.5 to 4 meters, so only satellites relatively close to the Sun or those with higher magnitudes were identified. Those that are more distant or faint ones in the halo of the Milky Way are yet to be detected (Figure 3).
Figure 2: Satellite galaxies associated with the Milky Way Galaxy. Squares are Large and Small Magellanic Clouds and circles are dwarf spheroidal galaxies.
Figure 3: False-color dwarf galaxy images taken with
Subaru Telescope. Left: Leo II (V-band absolute magnitude MV = -11.9
mag). Middle: Boötes I (MV = -6.3 mag), where both images are taken with
Suprime Cam. Right: HSC image of Virgo I (MV = -0.8 mag). Ultra-faint
dwarf galaxies (Boötes I and Virgo I) are hard to detect from these
The combination of the large aperture of 8.2-meter Subaru Telescope and
the large field-of-view Hyper Suprime-Cam (HSC) instrument is very
powerful in this study. It enables an efficient search for very faint
dwarf satellites over large areas of the sky. The first step in
searching out a new dwarf galaxy is to identify an over density of stars
in the sky, using photometric data. Next is to assess that the over
dense appearance is not due to line-of-sight or accidental
juxtapositions of unrelated dense fields, but is really a stellar
system. The standard method for doing this is to look for a
characteristic distribution of stars in the color-magnitude diagram
(comparable to the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram (middle and left panels
of Figure 4)). Stars in a general field shows no particular patterns in this diagram (right panel of Figure 4).
Figure 4: Stars in the color-magnitude diagram. Old
stellar populations show a characteristic distribution along the curve
seen in the diagram. From left to right: Boötes I, Segue I, Virgo I, and
a general field outside Virgo I. The spatial distribution of the stars,
which are located inside the green band for Virgo I, is shown in the
right panel of Figure 1. Note that stars in a general field outside Virgo I (right panel) show no characteristic feature.
Finding Virgo I
Daisuke Homma, a graduate student at Tohoku University, found Virgo I under the guidance of his advisor, Masashi Chiba, and their international collaborators. "We have carefully examined the early data of the Subaru Strategic Survey with HSC and found an apparent over density of stars in Virgo with very high statistical significance, showing a characteristic pattern of an ancient stellar system in the color-magnitude diagram," he said. "Surprisingly, this is one of the faintest satellites, with absolute magnitude of -0.8 in the optical waveband. This is indeed a galaxy, because it is spatially extended with a radius of 124 light years – systematically larger than a globular cluster with comparable luminosity."
The faintest dwarf satellites identified so far was Segue I, discovered by SDSS (-1.5 mag) and Cetus II in DES (0.0 mag). Cetus II is yet to be confirmed, as it is too compact as a galaxy. Virgo I may ultimately turn out to be the faintest one ever discovered. It lies at a distance of 280,000 light years from the Sun, and such a remote galaxy with faint brightness has not been identified in previous surveys. It is beyond the reach of SDSS, which has previously surveyed the same area in the direction of the constellation Virgo (Figure 5).
Figure 5: The relation between the distance from the
Sun and absolute magnitude in optical waveband for Milky Way satellites
discovered so far. Virgo I is extremely faint and distant from the Sun
and is beyond the reach of SDSS. Except for Virgo I, DES mostly
discovers those outside SDSS's limit.
According to Chiba, the leader of this search project, the discovery
has profound implications. "This discovery implies hundreds of faint
dwarf satellites waiting to be discovered in the halo of the Milky Way,"
he said. "How many satellites are indeed there and what properties they
have, will give us an important clue of understanding how the Milky Way
formed and how dark matter contributed to it."
Using HSC to Trace Galaxy Formation
Formation of galaxies like the Milky Way is thought to proceed
through the hierarchical assembly of dark matter, forming dark halos,
and through the subsequent infall of gas and star formation affected by
gravity. Standard models of galaxy formation in the context of the
so-called cold dark matter (CDM) theory predict the presence of hundreds
of small dark halos orbiting in a Milky Way-sized dark halo and a
comparable number of luminous satellite companions. However, only tens
of satellites have ever been identified. This falls well short of a
theoretical predicted number, which is part of the so-called "missing
satellite problem". Astronomers may need to consider other types of dark
matter than CDM or to invoke baryonic physics suppressing galaxy
formation to explain the shortfall in the number of satellites. Another
possibility is that they have seen only a fraction of all the satellites
associated with the Milky Way due to various observational biases. The
issue remains unsolved.
One of the motivations for the Subaru Strategic Survey using HSC is
to do increase observations in the search for Milky Way satellites. The
early data from this survey is what led to the discovery of Virgo I.
This program will continue to explore much wider areas of the sky and is
expected to find more satellites like Virgo I. These tiny companions to
be discovered in the near future may tell us much more about history of
the Milky Way's formation.
The team's finding is published in the Astrophysical Journal in its
November 14, 2016 on-line version and November 20, 2016 in the printed
version, Volume 832, Number 1. The title of the paper is "A New Milky
Way Satellite Discovered in the Subaru/Hyper Suprime-Cam Survey" by D.
Homma et al., which is also available in preprint from
arXiv:1609.04346v2. This work is supported by a JSPS Grant-in-Aid for
Scientific Research (B) (JP 25287062) and a MEXT Grant-in-Aid for
Scientific Research on Innovative Areas (JP15H05889, JP16H01086).
Daisuke Homma (Tohoku University, Japan), Masashi Chiba (Tohoku
University, Japan), Sakurako Okamoto (Shanghai Astronomical Observatory,
China), Yutaka Komiyama (National Astronomical Observatory of Japan
(NAOJ), Japan), Masayuki Tanaka (NAOJ, Japan), Mikito Tanaka (Tohoku
Miho N. Ishigaki (Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the
Universe (Kavli IPMU, WPI), University of Tokyo, Japan), Masayuki
Akiyama (Tohoku University, Japan), Nobuo Arimoto (Subaru Telescope,
NAOJ, USA), Jose A, Garmilla (Princeton University, USA), Robert H.
Lupton (Princeton University, USA), Michael A. Strauss (Princeton
University, USA), Hisanori Furusawa (NAOJ, Japan), Satoshi Miyazaki
(NAOJ, Japan), Hitoshi Murayama (Kavli IPMU, WPI, University of Tokyo,
Japan), Atsushi J. Nishizawa (Nagoya University, Japan), Masahiro Takada
(Kavli IPMU, WPI, University of Tokyo, Japan), Tomonori Usuda (NAOJ,
Japan), Shiang-Yu Wang (Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics,
Academia Sinica, Taiwan)
For Comparison, the abolute magnitude in visible waveband
for M31 (Andromeda Galaxy), Large Magellanic Cloud, and Small Magellanic
Cloud are -21.77, -18.35 and -17.02, respectively, according to
NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database (http://ned.ipac.caltech.edu).