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A vast, thin plane of corotating dwarf galaxies orbiting the Andromeda galaxy

Abstract

Dwarf satellite galaxies are thought to be the remnants of the population of primordial structures that coalesced to form giant galaxies like the Milky Way1. It has previously been suspected2 that dwarf galaxies may not be isotropically distributed around our Galaxy, because several are correlated with streams of H i emission, and may form coplanar groups3. These suspicions are supported by recent analyses4,5,6,7. It has been claimed7 that the apparently planar distribution of satellites is not predicted within standard cosmology8, and cannot simply represent a memory of past coherent accretion. However, other studies dispute this conclusion9,10,11. Here we report the existence of a planar subgroup of satellites in the Andromeda galaxy (M 31), comprising about half of the population. The structure is at least 400 kiloparsecs in diameter, but also extremely thin, with a perpendicular scatter of less than 14.1 kiloparsecs. Radial velocity measurements12,13,14,15 reveal that the satellites in this structure have the same sense of rotation about their host. This shows conclusively that substantial numbers of dwarf satellite galaxies share the same dynamical orbital properties and direction of angular momentum. Intriguingly, the plane we identify is approximately aligned with the pole of the Milky Way’s disk and with the vector between the Milky Way and Andromeda.

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Figure 1: Map of the Andromeda satellite system.
Figure 2: Satellite galaxy positions as viewed from Andromeda.
Figure 3: Three-dimensional view (online only in the PDF version) or two-dimensional screenshot (in the print version) of the planar, rotating structure.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the staff of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope for taking the PAndAS data, and for their continued support throughout the project. We thank one of our referees, B. Tully, for pointing out that IC 1613 could also be associated to the planar structure. R.A.I. and D.V.G. gratefully acknowledge support from the Agence Nationale de la Recherche though the grant POMMME, and would like to thank B. Famaey for discussions. G.F.L. thanks the Australian Research Council for support through his Future Fellowship and Discovery Project. This work is based on observations obtained with MegaPrime/MegaCam, a joint project of CFHT and CEA/DAPNIA, at the Canada–France–Hawaii Telescope, which is operated by the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada, the Institut National des Sciences de l’Univers of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) of France, and the University of Hawaii. Some of the data presented here were obtained at the W.M. Keck Observatory, which is operated as a scientific partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Observatory was made possible by the generous financial support of the W.M. Keck Foundation.

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Authors

Contributions

All authors assisted in the development and writing of the paper. In addition, the structural and kinematic properties of the dwarf population, and the significance of the Andromeda plane were determined by R.A.I., G.F.L. and A.R.C., based on distances determined by the same group (as part of the PhD research of A.R.C.). In addition, A.W.M. is the Principal Investigator of PAndAS; M.J.I. and R.A.I. led the data processing effort; R.A.I. was the Principal Investigator of an earlier CFHT MegaPrime/MegaCam survey, which PAndAS builds on (which included S.C.C., A.M.N.F., M.J.I., G.F.L., N.F.M. and A.W.M.). R.M.R. is Principal Investigator of the spectroscopic follow-up with the Keck Telescope. M.L.C. and S.C.C. led the analysis of the kinematic determination of the dwarf population, and N.F.M. led the detection of the dwarf population from PAndAS data. N.G.I. performed the initial analysis of the satellite kinematics.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rodrigo A. Ibata.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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This file contains Supplementary Text 1-2, Supplementary Figure 1 and a Supplementary Reference. (PDF 126 kb)

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Ibata, R., Lewis, G., Conn, A. et al. A vast, thin plane of corotating dwarf galaxies orbiting the Andromeda galaxy. Nature 493, 62–65 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11717

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