The Nature and Origin of Substructure in the Outskirts of M31. I. Surveying the Stellar Content with the Hubble Space Telescope Advanced Camera for Surveys

J. C. Richardson, A. M. N. Ferguson, R. A. Johnson, M. J. Irwin, N. R. Tanvir, D. C. Faria, R. A. Ibata, K. V. Johnston, G. F. Lewis, A. W. McConnachie, S. C. Chapman, Annette Ferguson

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Abstract / Description of output

We present the largest and most detailed survey to date of the stellar populations in the outskirts of M31 based on the homogeneous analysis of 14 deep Hubble Space Telescope Advanced Camera for Surveys (HST/ACS) pointings spanning the range 11.5 kpc lsim R proj lsim 45 kpc. Many of these pointings sample coherent substructure discovered in the course of the Isaac Newton Telescope Wide Field Camera (INT/WFC) imaging survey of M31 while others sample more diffuse structure in the extended disk. We conduct a quantitative comparison of the resolved stellar populations in these fields and identify several striking trends. The color-magnitude diagrams (CMDs), which reach gsim3 mag below the red clump with high completeness, can be classified into two main categories based on their morphologies. "Stream-like" fields, so named for their similarity to the CMD of the giant stellar stream, are characterized by a red clump that slants blueward at fainter magnitudes and an extended horizontal branch. They show no evidence for young populations. On the other hand, "disk-like" fields exhibit rounder red clumps with significant luminosity width, lack an obvious horizontal branch, and show evidence for recent star formation (~0.25-2 Gyr ago). We compare the spatial and line-of-sight distribution of stream-like fields with a recent simulation of the giant stream progenitor orbit and find an excellent agreement. These fields are found across much of the inner halo of M31, and attest to the high degree of pollution caused by this event. Disk-like material resides in the extended disk structure of M31 and is detected here up to R proj ~ 44 kpc; the uniform populations in these fields, including the ubiquitous presence of young populations, and the strong rotation reported elsewhere are most consistent with a scenario in which this structure has formed through heating and disruption of the existing thin disk, perhaps due to the impact of the giant stream progenitor. Our comparative analysis sheds new light on the likely composition of two of the ultra-deep pointings formerly presented as pure outer disk and pure halo in the literature. Based on observations made with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, obtained at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., under NASA contract NAS 5-26555.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1998-2012
JournalAstronomical Journal
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2008


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