[1111.6585] The Milky Way has no thick disk

Authors: Jo Bovy (IAS), Hans-Walter Rix (MPIA), David W. Hogg (NYU, MPIA)

Date: 28 Nov 2011

Abstract: Different stellar sub-populations of the Milky Way's stellar disk are known to have different vertical scale heights, their thickness increasing with age. Using SEGUE spectroscopic survey data, we have recently shown that mono-abundance sub-populations, defined in the [\alpha/Fe]-[Fe/H] space, are well described by single exponential spatial-density profiles in both the radial and the vertical direction; therefore any star of a given abundance is clearly associated with a sub-population of scale height h_z. Here, we work out how to determine the stellar surface-mass density contributions at the solar radius R_0 of each such sub-population, accounting for the survey selection function, and for the fraction of the stellar population mass that is reflected in the spectroscopic target stars given populations of different abundances and their presumed age distributions. Taken together, this enables us to derive \Sigma_{R_0}(h_z), the surface-mass contributions of stellar populations with scale height h_z. Surprisingly, we find no hint of a thin-thick disk bi-modality in this mass-weighted scale-height distribution, but a smoothly decreasing function, approximately \Sigma_{R_0}(h_z)\propto \exp(-h_z), from h_z ~ 200 pc to h_z ~ 1 kpc. As h_z is ultimately the structurally defining property of a thin or thick disk, this shows clearly that the Milky Way has a continuous and monotonic distribution of disk thicknesses: there is no 'thick disk' sensibly characterized as a distinct component. We discuss how our result is consistent with evidence for seeming bi-modality in purely geometric disk decompositions, or chemical abundances analyses.

abs pdf

Nov 30, 2011

1111.6585 (/preprints)
2011-11-30, 17:03 [edit]

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