Mapping the Tidal Destruction of the Hercules Dwarf: A Wide-field DECam Imaging Search for RR Lyrae Stars

Christopher Garling, Beth Willman, David J. Sand, Jonathan Hargis, Denija Crnojević, Keith Bechtol, Jeffrey L. Carlin, Jay Strader, Hu Zou, Xu Zhou, Jundan Nie, Tianmeng Zhang, Zhimin Zhou, Xiyan Peng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations

Abstract

We investigate the hypothesized tidal disruption of the Hercules ultra-faint dwarf galaxy (UFD). Previous tidal disruption studies of the Hercules UFD have been hindered by the high degree of foreground contamination in the direction of the dwarf. We bypass this issue by using RR Lyrae stars, which are standard candles with a very low field-volume density at the distance of Hercules. We use wide-field imaging from the Dark Energy Camera on CTIO to identify candidate RR Lyrae stars, supplemented with observations taken in coordination with the Beijing-Arizona Sky Survey on the Bok Telescope. Combining color, magnitude, and light-curve information, we identify three new RR Lyrae stars associated with Hercules. All three of these new RR Lyrae stars lie outside its published tidal radius. When considered with the nine RR Lyrae stars already known within the tidal radius, these results suggest that a substantial fraction of Hercules' stellar content has been stripped. With this degree of tidal disruption, Hercules is an interesting case between a visibly disrupted dwarf (such as the Sagittarius dwarf spheroidal galaxy) and one in dynamic equilibrium. The degree of disruption also shows that we must be more careful with the ways we determine object membership when estimating dwarf masses in the future. One of the three discovered RR Lyrae stars sits along the minor axis of Hercules, but over two tidal radii away. This type of debris is consistent with recent models that suggest Hercules' orbit is aligned with its minor axis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number44
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Volume852
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • galaxies: dwarf
  • galaxies: individual (Hercules)
  • Local Group
  • stars: variables: RR Lyrae

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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