Current and future surveys of the Galaxy contain a wealth of information about the structure and evolution of the Galactic disk and halo. Teasing out this information is complicated by measurement uncertainties, missing data, and sparse sampling. I develop and describe several applications of generative modeling--creating an approximate description of the probability of the data given the physical parameters of the system--to deal with these issues. I develop a method for inferring the Galactic potential from individual observations of stellar kinematics such as will be furnished by the upcoming Gaia space astrometry mission. This method takes uncertainties in our knowledge of the distribution function of stellar tracers into account through marginalization. I demonstrate the method by inferring the force law in the Solar System from observations of the positions and velocities of the eight planets at a single epoch. I apply a similar method to derive the Milky Way's circular velocity from observations of maser kinematics. I infer the velocity distribution of nearby stars from Hipparcos data, which only consist of tangential velocities, by forward modeling the underlying distribution with a flexible multi-Gaussian model. I characterize the contribution of several "moving groups"---overdensities of co-moving stars---to the full distribution. By studying the properties of stars in these moving groups, I show that they do not form a single-burst population and that they are most likely due to transient non-axisymmetric features of the disk, such as transient spiral structure. By forward modeling one such scenario, I show how the Hercules moving group can be traced around the Galaxy by future surveys, which would confirm that the Milky Way bar's outer Lindblad resonance lies near the Solar radius.
- Pub Date:
- Physics, Astrophysics