Using dwarf satellite proper motions to determine their origin

G. W. Angus, Antonaldo Diaferio, Pavel Kroupa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


The highly organized distribution of satellite galaxies surrounding the Milky Way is a serious challenge to the concordance cosmological model. Perhaps the only remaining solution, in this framework, is that the dwarf satellite galaxies fall into the Milky Way's potential along one or two filaments, which may or may not plausibly reproduce the observed distribution. Here we test this scenario by making use of the proper motions of the Fornax, Sculptor, Ursa Minor and Carina dwarf spheroidals, and trace their orbits back through several variations of the Milky Way's potential and account for dynamical friction. The key parameters are the proper motions and total masses of the dwarf galaxies. Using a simple model, we find no tenable set of parameters that can allow Fornax to be consistent with filamentary infall, mainly because the 1σ error on its proper motion is relatively small. The other three must walk a tightrope between requiring a small pericentre (less than 20kpc) to lose enough orbital energy to dynamical friction and avoiding being tidally disrupted. We then employed a more realistic model with host halo mass accretion and found that the four dwarf galaxies must have fallen in at least 5Gyr ago. This time-interval is longer than organized distribution is expected to last before being erased by the randomization of the satellite orbits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1401-1409
Number of pages9
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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