Milky Way Tomography with K and M Dwarf Stars: The Vertical Structure of the Galactic Disk

Deborah Ferguson, University of Kentucky
Susan Gardner, University of Kentucky
Brian Yanny, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory

Published in The Astrophysical Journal, v. 843, no. 2, 141, p. 1-20.

© 2017. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.

The copyright holder has granted the permission for posting the article here.


We use the number density distributions of K and M dwarf stars with vertical height from the Galactic disk, determined using observations from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, to probe the structure of the Milky Way disk across the survey's footprint. Using photometric parallax as a distance estimator we analyze a sample of several million disk stars in matching footprints above and below the Galactic plane, and we determine the location and extent of vertical asymmetries in the number counts in a variety of thin- and thick-disk subsamples in regions of some 200 square degrees within 2 kpc in vertical distance from the Galactic disk. These disk asymmetries present wave-like features as previously observed on other scales and at other distances from the Sun. We additionally explore the scale height of the disk and the implied offset of the Sun from the Galactic plane at different locations, noting that the scale height of the disk can differ significantly when measured using stars only above or only below the plane. Moreover, we compare the shape of the number density distribution in the north for different latitude ranges with a fixed range in longitude and find the shape to be sensitive to the selected latitude window. We explain why this may be indicative of a change in stellar populations in the latitude regions compared, possibly allowing access to the systematic metallicity difference between thin- and thick-disk populations through photometry.