The Photometric Properties of a Vast Stellar Substructure in the Outskirts of M33

Alan W. McConnachie, Annette M. N. Ferguson, Michael J. Irwin, John Dubinski, Lawrence M. Widrow, Aaron Dotter, Rodrigo Ibata, Geraint F. Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We have surveyed approximately 40 deg2 surrounding M33 with Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope MegaCam/MegaPrime in the g and i filters out to a maximum projected radius from this galaxy of 50 kpc, as part of the Pan-Andromeda Archaeological Survey (PAndAS). Our observations are deep enough to resolve the top ~4 mag of the red giant branch population in this galaxy. We have previously shown that the disk of M33 is surrounded by a large, irregular, low surface brightness substructure. Here, we quantify the stellar populations and structure of this feature using the PAndAS data. We show that the stellar populations of this feature are consistent with an old population with lang[Fe/H]rang ~ -1.6 dex and an interquartile range in metallicity of ~0.5 dex. We construct a surface brightness map of M33 that traces this feature to μ V ~= 33 mag arcsec-2. At these low surface brightness levels, the structure extends to projected radii of ~40 kpc from the center of M33 in both the northwest and southeast quadrants of the galaxy. Overall, the structure has an "S-shaped" appearance that broadly aligns with the orientation of the H I disk warp. We calculate a lower limit to the integrated luminosity of the structure of -12.7 ± 0.5 mag, comparable to a bright dwarf galaxy such as Fornax or Andromeda II and slightly less than 1% of the total luminosity of M33. Further, we show that there is tentative evidence for a distortion in the distribution of young stars near the edge of the H I disk that occurs at similar azimuth to the warp in H I. The data also hint at a low-level, extended stellar component at larger radius that may be an M33 halo component. We revisit studies of M33 and its stellar populations in light of these new results and discuss possible formation scenarios for the vast stellar structure. Our favored model is that of the tidal disruption of M33 in its orbit around M31.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1038-1052
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2010


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