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  • Barbara Jesline

Do you know: How do these measurements utilize in galaxy level study?

Stellar kinematics yields important astrophysical information about stars, and the galaxies in which they reside. Stellar kinematics data combined with astrophysical modelling produces important information about the galactic system as a whole. Measured stellar velocities in the innermost regions of galaxies including the Milky Way have provided evidence that many galaxies host supermassive black holes at their centre. In farther out regions of galaxies such as within the galactic halo, velocity measurements of globular clusters orbiting in these halo regions of galaxies provide evidence for dark matter. Both of these cases derive from the key fact that stellar kinematics can be related to the overall potential in which the stars are bound. This means that if accurate stellar kinematics measurements are made for a star or group of stars orbiting in a certain region of a galaxy, the gravitational potential and mass distribution can be inferred given that the gravitational potential in which the star is bound produces its orbit and serves as the impetus for its stellar motion. Examples of using kinematics combined with modelling to construct an astrophysical system include:


Rotation of the Milky Way's Disc: From the proper motions and radial velocities of stars within the Milky way disc one can show that there is differential rotation. When combining these measurements of stars' proper motions and their radial velocities, along with careful modelling, it is possible to obtain a picture of the rotation of the Milky Way disc. The local character of galactic rotation in the solar neighbourhood is encapsulated in the Oort constants.


Structural Components of The Milky Way: Using stellar kinematics, astronomers construct models which seek to explain the overall galactic structure in terms of distinct kinematic populations of stars. This is possible because these distinct populations are often located in specific regions of galaxies. For example, within the Milky Way, there are three primary components, each with its own distinct stellar kinematics: the disc, halo and bulge or bar. These kinematic groups are closely related to the stellar populations in the Milky Way, forming a strong correlation between the motion and chemical composition, thus indicating different formation mechanisms. For the Milky Way, the speed of disk stars is {\displaystyle \mathrm {V} =220~\mathrm {km} ~\mathrm {s} ^{-1}} and an RMS (Root mean square) velocity relative to this speed of {\displaystyle \mathrm {V_{RMS}} =50~\mathrm {km} ~\mathrm {s} ^{-1}}. For bulge population stars, the velocities are randomly oriented with a larger relative RMS velocity of {\displaystyle \mathrm {V_{RMS}} =150~\mathrm {km} ~\mathrm {s} ^{-1}} and no net circular velocity. The Galactic stellar halo consists of stars with orbits that extend to the outer regions of the galaxy. Some of these stars will continually orbit far from the galactic centre, while others are on trajectories which bring them to various distances from the galactic centre. These stars have little to no average rotation. Many stars in this group belong to globular clusters which formed long ago and thus have a distinct formation history, which can be inferred from their kinematics and poor metallicities. The halo may be further subdivided into an inner and outer halo, with the inner halo having a net prograde motion with respect to the Milky Way and the outer a net retrograde motion.


External Galaxies: Spectroscopic observations of external galaxies make it possible to characterize the bulk motions of the stars they contain. While these stellar populations in external galaxies are generally not resolved to the level where one can track the motion of individual stars (except for the very nearest galaxies) measurements of the kinematics of the integrated stellar population along the line of sight provides information including the mean velocity and the velocity dispersion which can then be used to infer the distribution of mass within the galaxy. Measurement of the mean velocity as a function of position gives information on the galaxy's rotation, with distinct regions of the galaxy that are redshifted/blueshifted in relation to the galaxy's systemic velocity.


Mass distributions: Through measurement of the kinematics of tracer objects such as globular clusters and the orbits of nearby satellite dwarf galaxies, we can determine the mass distribution of the Milky Way or other galaxies. This is accomplished by combining kinematic measurements with dynamical modelling.