Cosmology with extragalactic proper motions: harmonic formalism, estimators, and forecasts

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We conduct a thorough study into the feasibility of measuring large-scale correlated proper motions of galaxies with astrometric surveys. We introduce a harmonic formalism for analysing proper motions and their correlation functions on the sphere based on spin-weighted spherical harmonics, and study the statistics of the transverse velocity field induced by large-scale structure. We use a likelihood formalism to derive optimal estimators for the secular parallax due to the Solar System’s motion relative to distant objects, and compute the variance and bias due to peculiar velocities and relativistic aberration. We use a simulated catalogue of galaxy proper motions with radial distributions and noise properties similar to those expected from Gaia to forecast the detectability of the proper motion dipole, whose amplitude may be considered a proxy for the Hubble constant. We find cosmic variance to be the limiting source of noise for this measurement, forecasting a detectability of 1–2σ on a single component of the local velocity, increasing to 2–4σ (equivalent to a 25–50 per cent measurement of the Hubble constant) if the CMB dipole is included as prior information. We conduct a thorough study into the radial dependence of the signal-to-noise finding that most of the information comes from galaxies closer than a few hundred Mpc. We forecast that the amplitude of peculiar transverse velocities can potentially be measured with 10σ significance; such a measurement would offer a unique probe of cosmic flows and a valuable test of the cosmological model.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages24
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Early online date12 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


  • astro-ph.CO

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