Mary E. K. Williams

Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam, Potsdam, Brandenburg, Germany

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Publications (7)11.04 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: The diffuse interstellar bands (DIBs) are absorption lines observed in visual and near-infrared spectra of stars. Understanding their origin in the interstellar medium is one of the oldest problems in astronomical spectroscopy, as DIBs have been known since 1922. In a completely new approach to understanding DIBs, we combined information from nearly 500,000 stellar spectra obtained by the massive spectroscopic survey RAVE (Radial Velocity Experiment) to produce the first pseudo-three-dimensional map of the strength of the DIB at 8620 angstroms covering the nearest 3 kiloparsecs from the Sun, and show that it follows our independently constructed spatial distribution of extinction by interstellar dust along the Galactic plane. Despite having a similar distribution in the Galactic plane, the DIB 8620 carrier has a significantly larger vertical scale height than the dust. Even if one DIB may not represent the general DIB population, our observations outline the future direction of DIB research.
    Science (New York, N.Y.). 08/2014; 345(6198):791-5.
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    ABSTRACT: Probability density functions are determined from new stellar parameters for the distance moduli of stars for which the RAdial Velocity Experiment (RAVE) has obtained spectra with S/N>=10. The expectation value of distance is larger than the distance implied by the expectation of distance modulus; the latter is itself larger than the distance implied by the expectation value of the parallax. Our parallaxes of Hipparcos stars agree well with the values measured by Hipparcos, so the expectation of parallax is the most reliable distance indicator. The latter are improved by taking extinction into account. We provide one- two- or three-Gaussian fits to the distance pdfs. The effective temperature absolute-magnitude diagram of our stars is significantly improved when these pdfs are used to make the diagram. We use the method of kinematic corrections devised by Schoenrich, Binney & Asplund to check for systematic errors in our estimators for ordinary stars and confirm the conclusion reached from the Hipparcos stars that the most reliable distance indicator is the expectation of parallax. There is an indication that for cool dwarfs and low-gravity giants tends to be larger than the true distance by up to 30 percent. The most satisfactory distances are for dwarfs hotter than 5500 K. We compare our distances to stars in 13 open clusters with cluster distances from the literature and find excellent agreement for the dwarfs and indications that we are over-estimating distances to giants, especially in young clusters. Taking extinction into account slightly improves results for cluster stars even though our derived extinctions scatter significantly within a cluster and in four clusters the mean extinction of clusters stars does not agree with the cluster's literature value. Noise in the spectra dominates neither the uncertainty in distance nor the uncertainty in extinction.
    Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 09/2013; 437(1). · 5.52 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We analyse the kinematics of ~400000 RAVE stars. We split the sample into hot and cold dwarfs, red-clump and non-clump giants. The kinematics of the clump giants are consistent with being identical with those of non-clump giants. We fit Gaussian velocity ellipsoids to the meridional-plane components of velocity of each star class and give formulae from which the shape and orientation of the velocity ellipsoid can be determined at any location. The data are consistent with the giants and the cool dwarfs sharing the same velocity ellipsoids; sigma_z rises from 21 kms in the plane to sim 55 kms at |z|=2 kpc, while sigma_r rises from 37 kms to 82 kms. At (R,z) the longest axis of one of these velocity ellipsoids is inclined to the Galactic plane by an angle ~0.8 arctan(z/R). We use a novel formula to obtain precise fits to the highly non-Gaussian distributions of v_phi components. We compare the observed velocity distributions with the predictions of a dynamical model fitted to the velocities of stars that lie within ~150 pc of the Sun and star counts towards the Galactic pole. The model accurately reproduces the non-Gaussian nature of the v_r and v_z distributions and provides excellent fits to the data for v_z at all locations. The model v_phi distributions for the cool dwarfs fit the data extremely well, while those for the hot dwarfs have displacements to low v_phi that grow with |z| from very small values near the plane. At |z|>0.5 kpc, the theoretical v_phi distributions for giants show a deficit of stars with large v_phi and the model v_r distributions are too narrow. Systematically over-estimating distances by 20 per cent introduces asymmetry into the model v_r and v_z distributions near the plane and but significantly improves the fits to the data at |z|>0.5 kpc. The quality of the fits lends credence to the assumed, disc-dominated, gravitational potential.
    09/2013;
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    ABSTRACT: We construct new estimates on the Galactic escape speed at various Galactocentric radii using the latest data release of the Radial Velocity Experiment (RAVE DR4). Compared to previous studies we have a database larger by a factor of 10 as well as reliable distance estimates for almost all stars. Our analysis is based on the statistical analysis of a rigorously selected sample of 90 high-velocity halo stars from RAVE and a previously published data set. We calibrate and extensively test our method using a suite of cosmological simulations of the formation of Milky Way-sized galaxies. Our best estimate of the local Galactic escape speed, which we define as the minimum speed required to reach three virial radii R340, is 537 +59 -43 km/s (90% confidence) with an additional 5% systematic uncertainty, where R340 is the Galactocentric radius encompassing a mean overdensity of 340 times the critical density for closure in the Universe. From the escape speed we further derive estimates of the mass of the Galaxy using a simple mass model with two options for the mass profile of the dark matter halo: an unaltered and an adiabatically contracted Navarro, Frenk & White (NFW) sphere. If we fix the local circular velocity the latter profile yields a significantly higher mass than the uncontracted halo, but if we instead use the statistics on halo concentration parameters in large cosmological simulations as a constraint we find very similar masses for both models. Our best estimate for M340, the mass interior to R340 (dark matter and baryons), is 1.4 +0.5 -0.3 x 10^12 M_sun (corresponding to M200 = 1.6 +0.5 -0.4 x 10^12 M_sun). This estimate is in good agreement with recently published independent mass estimates based on the kinematics of more distant halo stars and the satellite galaxy Leo I.
    09/2013;
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    ABSTRACT: By means of N-body simulations we study the response of a galactic disc to a minor merger event. We find that non-self-gravitating, spiral-like features are induced in the thick disc. As we have shown in a previous work, this "ringing" also leaves an imprint in velocity space (the u-v plane) in small spatial regions, such as the solar neighbourhood. As the disc relaxes after the event, clumps in the u-v plane get closer with time, allowing us to estimate the time of impact. In addition to confirming the possibility of this diagnostic, here we show that in a more realistic scenario, the in-fall trajectory of the perturber gives rise to an azimuthal dependence of the structure in phase-space. We also find that the space defined by the energy and angular momentum of stars is a better choice than velocity space, as clumps remain visible even in large local volumes. This makes their observational detection much easier since one need not be restricted to a small spatial volume. We show that information about the time of impact, the mass of the perturber, and its trajectory is stored in the kinematics of disc stars.
    Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 05/2011; 419(3). · 5.52 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We identify a new, nearby (0.5 < d < 10 kpc) stream in data from the RAdial Velocity Experiment (RAVE). As the majority of stars in the stream lie in the constellation of Aquarius we name it the Aquarius Stream. We identify 15 members of the stream lying between 30 < l < 75 and -70< b <-50, with heliocentric line-of-sight velocities V_los~-200 km/s. The members are outliers in the radial velocity distribution, and the overdensity is statistically significant when compared to mock samples created with both the Besan\c{c}on Galaxy model and newly-developed code Galaxia. The metallicity distribution function and isochrone fit in the log g - T_eff plane suggest the stream consists of a 10 Gyr old population with [m/H]~-1.0. We explore relations to other streams and substructures, finding the stream cannot be identified with known structures: it is a new, nearby substructure in the Galaxy's halo. Using a simple dynamical model of a dissolving satellite galaxy we account for the localization of the stream. We find that the stream is dynamically young and therefore likely the debris of a recently disrupted dwarf galaxy or globular cluster. The Aquarius stream is thus a specimen of ongoing hierarchical Galaxy formation, rare for being right in the solar suburb. Comment: 17 pages, 10 figures, accepted for publication in ApJ
    12/2010;
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    Mary E. K. Williams, Ken C. Freeman, Amina Helmi
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    ABSTRACT: The Arcturus moving group is a well-populated example of phase space substructure within the disk of our Galaxy. With its large rotational lag (V = −100 kms−1), metal poor nature ([Fe/H] ~ −0.6) and significant age (10 Gyr) it belongs to the Galaxy's thick disk. Traditionally regarded as the remains of a dissolved open cluster, it has recently been suggested to be a remnant of a satellite accreted by our Galaxy.We confirm via further kinematic studies using the Nordstöm et al. (2004), Schuster et al. (2004) and RAdial Velocity Experiment (RAVE) surveys (Steinmetz et al. 2004) the existence of the group, finding it to possibly favour negative U velocities and also possibly a solar-circle phenomenon. We undertook a high-resolution spectroscopic abundance study of Arcturus group members and candidates to investigate the origin of the group. Examining abundance of Fe, Mg, Ca, Ti, Cr, Ni, Zn, Ce, Nd, Sm and Gd for 134 stars we found that the group is chemically similar to disk stars and does not exhibit a clear chemical homogeneity.The origin of the group still remains unresolved: the chemical results are consistent with a dynamical origin but do not entirely rule out a merger one. Certainly, the Arcturus group provides a challenge to our understanding of the nature and origin of the Galaxy's thick disk.
    Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union 05/2008; 4:139 - 144.