In a cosmological setting, the disk of a galaxy is expected to continuously experience gravitational torques and perturbations from a variety of sources, which can cause the disk to wobble, flare and warp1,2. Specifically, the study of galactic warps and their dynamic nature could reveal key information on the formation history of galaxies and the mass distribution of their haloes. Our Milky Way presents a unique case study for galactic warps, thanks to detailed knowledge of its stellar distribution and kinematics. Using a simple model of how the warp's orientation is changing with time, here, we measure the precession rate of the Milky Way's warp using 12 million giant stars from Gaia Data Release 23, finding that it is precessing at 10.86 ± 0.03 (statistical) ± 3.20 (systematic) km s-1 kpc-1 in the direction of Galactic rotation, about one-third the angular rotation velocity at the Sun's position in the Galaxy. The direction and magnitude of the warp's precession rate favour the scenario that the warp is the result of a recent or ongoing encounter with a satellite galaxy, rather than the relic of the ancient assembly history of the Galaxy.
- Pub Date:
- March 2020
- Astrophysics - Astrophysics of Galaxies
- Published in Nature Astronomy. Final accepted version here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-020-1017-3 and full-text access via SharedIt link: https://rdcu.be/b2phN