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The Metallicity Gradient and Complex Formation History of the Outermost Halo of the Milky Way

Dietz, Sarah E. et al., 2020, The Astrophysical Journal, 894, 34 | View on ADS (2020ApJ...894...34D)


We present an examination of the metallicity distribution function of the outermost stellar halo of the Galaxy based on an analysis of both local (within 4 kpc of the Sun, ∼16,500 stars) and non-local (∼21,700 stars) samples. These samples were compiled using spectroscopic metallicities from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and photometric metallicities from the SkyMapper Southern Survey. We detect a negative metallicity gradient in the outermost halo (r > 35 kpc from the Galactic center), and find that the frequency of very metal-poor ([Fe/H] < -2.0) stars in the outer-halo region reaches up to ∼60% in our most distant sample, commensurate with previous theoretical predictions. This result provides clear evidence that the outer-halo formed hierarchically. The retrograde stars in the outermost halo exhibit a roughly constant metallicity, which may be linked to the accretion of the Sequoia progenitor. In contrast, prograde stars in the outermost halo exhibit a strong metallicity-distance dependence, indicating that they likely originated from the accretion of galaxies less massive than the Sequoia progenitor galaxy.

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