Kinematical structure of the Magellanic System

Roeland P. Van Der Marel, Nitya Kallivayalil, Gurtina Besla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


We review our understanding of the kinematics of the LMC and the SMC, and their orbit around the Milky Way. The line-of-sight velocity fields of both the LMC and SMC have been mapped with high accuracy using thousands of discrete traces, as well as Hi gas. The LMC is a rotating disk for which the viewing angles have been well established using various methods. The disk is elliptical in its disk plane. The disk thickness varies depending on the tracer population, with V/σ ranging from ∼ 2-10 from the oldest to the youngest population. For the SMC, the old stellar population resides in a spheroidal distribution with considerable line-of-sight depth and low V/σ. Young stars and Hi gas reside in a more irregular rotating disk. Mass estimates based on the kinematics indicate that each Cloud is embedded in a dark halo. Proper motion measurements with HST show that both galaxies move significantly more rapidly around the Milky Way than previously believed. This indicates that for a canonical 10 M Milky Way the Clouds are only passing by us for the first time. Although a higher Milky Way mass yields a bound orbit, this orbit is still very different from what has been previously assumed in models of the Magellanic Stream. Hence, much of our understanding of the history of the Magellanic System and the formation of the Magellanic Stream may need to be revised. The accuracy of the proper motion data is insufficient to say whether or not the LMC and SMC are bound to each other, but bound orbits do exist within the proper motion error ellipse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)81-92
Number of pages12
JournalProceedings of the International Astronomical Union
Issue numberS256
StatePublished - Jul 2008


  • Astrometry
  • Celestial mechanics
  • Dark matter
  • Galaxies: kinematics and dynamics
  • Galaxies: structure
  • Galaxy: halo
  • ISM: kinematics and dynamics
  • Magellanic Clouds
  • Stellar dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Space and Planetary Science


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