Evidence for Stellar Substructure in the Halo and Outer Disk of M31

Annette M. N. Ferguson, Michael J. Irwin, Rodrigo A. Ibata, Geraint F. Lewis, Nial R. Tanvir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We report the discovery of significant stellar substructure in the halo and outer disk of our nearest large galactic neighbor, M31. Our deep panoramic survey with the Isaac Newton Telescope Wide Field Camera currently maps out an area of ~25 deg2 around M31, extending along the semimajor axis to 55 kpc and is the first to allow an uninterrupted study of the density and color distribution of individual red giant branch stars across a large fraction of the halo of an external spiral galaxy. We find evidence for both spatial density and metallicity (as inferred from color information) variations, which are often, but not always, correlated. In addition to the previously reported giant stellar stream, the data reveal the presence of significant stellar overdensities at large radii close to the southwestern major axis, in the proximity of the very luminous globular cluster G1, and near the northeastern major axis, coinciding with and extending beyond the previously known northern spur. The most prominent metallicity variations are found in the southern half of the halo, where two large structures with above average metallicites are apparent; one of these coincides with the giant stellar stream while the other corresponds to a much lower level stellar enhancement. Our findings contrast with, but do not conflict with, past studies of the M31 halo and outer disk that have suggested a rather homogeneous stellar population at large radius: the bulk of our newly detected substructure lies in the previously uncharted far outer regions of the galaxy. We discuss the possible origin of the substructure observed and the implications it has for constraining the galaxy assembly process. Based on observations made with the Isaac Newton Telescope, operated on the Island of La Palma by the Isaac Newton Group in the Spanish Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1452-1463
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2002


  • Galaxies: Evolution
  • Galaxies: Halos
  • Galaxies: Individual: Messier Number: M31
  • Galaxies: Structure
  • Galaxies: Local Group


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