Chaotic dispersal of tidal debris

Adrian M. Price-Whelan, Kathryn V. Johnston, Monica Valluri, Sarah Pearson, Andreas H.W. Küpper, David W. Hogg

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Several long, dynamically cold stellar streams have been observed around the Milky Way Galaxy, presumably formed from the tidal disruption of globular clusters. In integrable potentials - where all orbits are regular - tidal debris phase-mixes close to the orbit of the progenitor system. However, the Milky Way's dark matter halo is expected not to be fully integrable; an appreciable fraction of orbits will be chaotic. This paper examines the influence of chaos on the phase-space morphology of cold tidal streams. Streams even in weakly chaotic regions look very different from those in regular regions.We find that streams can be sensitive to chaos on a much shorter time-scale than any standard prediction (from the Lyapunov or frequency-diffusion times). For example, on a weakly chaotic orbit with a chaotic time-scale predicted to be >1000 orbital periods (>1000 Gyr), the resulting stellar stream is, after just a few 10's of orbits, substantially more diffuse than any formed on a nearby but regular orbit. We find that the enhanced diffusion of the stream stars can be understood by looking at the variance in orbital frequencies of orbit ensembles centred around the parent (progenitor) orbit. Our results suggest that long, cold streams around our Galaxy must exist only on regular (or very nearly regular) orbits; they potentially provide a map of the regular regions of the Milky Way potential. This suggests a promising new direction for the use of tidal streams to constrain the distribution of dark matter around our Galaxy.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1079-1098
    Number of pages20
    JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


    • Chaos
    • Dark matter
    • Galaxies
    • Galaxies
    • Galaxies
    • Galaxy
    • General
    • Halo
    • Haloes
    • Kinematics and dynamics
    • Star clusters

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Astronomy and Astrophysics
    • Space and Planetary Science


    Dive into the research topics of 'Chaotic dispersal of tidal debris'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this