New Tools for Galactic Archaeology from the Milky Way
Gail Zasowski, John Hopkins University
One of the critical components for understanding galaxy evolution is understanding the Milky Way Galaxy itself — its detailed structure and chemodynamical properties, as well as fundamental stellar physics, which we can only study in great detail locally. This field is currently undergoing a dramatic expansion towards the kinds of large-scale statistical analyses long used by the extragalactic and other communities, thanks in part to an enormous influx of data from space- and ground-based surveys. I will describe the Milky Way and Local Group in the context of general galaxy evolution and highlight some recent developments in Galactic astrophysics that take advantage of these big data sets and analysis techniques. In particular, I will focus on two diverse approaches: one to characterize the distribution and dynamics of the carbon-rich, dusty diffuse ISM, and one to map the resolved bulk stellar properties of the inner disk and bulge. The rapid progress in these areas promises to continue, with the arrival of data sets from missions like SDSS, Gaia, LSST, and WFIRST.
Do star formation laws break in the center of the Galaxy?
Betsy Mills, University of Arizona
I will review our understanding of molecular gas conditions in the central 500 parsecs of the Milky Way, and summarize recent studies that find that the Galactic center deviates from universal star formation relations. It is suggested that the amount of star formation in the Galactic center is less than expected, given the quantity of dense gas in this region. However, in order to conclude that the Galactic center truly breaks these ‘laws’ of star formation, two possibilities must be ruled out: that our indicators in this region could underestimate the amount of star formation, and that prior observations could have overestimated the amount of dense gas. I will analyze new evidence for ongoing star formation in the Galactic center and present new measurements of the gas densities in the Galactic center that show it to be less dense than originally thought. However, I will ultimately argue that the average density of the gas is less relevant to explaining the dearth of star formation than the fraction of gas at each density.
Understanding How Galaxies Reionized the Universe
Sanchayeeta Borthakur, Arizona State University
Identifying the population of galaxies that was responsible for the reionization of the universe is a long-standing quest in astronomy. While young stars can produce large amounts of ionizing photons, the mechanism behind the escape of Lyman continuum photons (wavelength < 912 A) from star-forming regions has eluded us. To identify such galaxies and to understand the process of the escape of Lyman continuum, we present an indirect technique known as the residual flux technique. Using this technique, we identified (and later confirmed) the first low-redshift galaxy that has an escape fraction of ionizing flux of 21%. This leaky galaxy provides us with valuable insights into the physics of starburst-driven feedback. In addition, since direct detection of ionizing flux is impossible at the epoch of reionization, the residual flux technique presents a highly valuable tool for future studies to be conducted with the upcoming large telescopes such as the JWST.