The mass of the Milky Way: Limits from a newly assembled set of halo objects

T. Sakamoto, M. Chiba, T. C. Beers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

151 Citations (Scopus)


We set new limits on the mass of the Milky Way, making use of the latest kinematic information for Galactic satellites and halo objects. Our sample consists of 11 satellite galaxies, 137 globular clusters, and 413 field horizontal-branch (FHB) stars up to distances of 10 kpc from the Sun. Roughly half of the objects in this sample have measured proper motions, permitting the use of their full space motions in our analysis. In order to bind these sample objects to the Galaxy, their rest-frame velocities must be lower than their escape velocities at their estimated distances. This constraint enables us to show that the mass estimate of the Galaxy is largely affected by several high-velocity objects (Leo I, Pal 3, Draco, and a few FHB stars), not by a single object alone (such as Leo I), as has often been the case in past analyses. We also find that a gravitational potential that gives rise to a declining rotation curve is insufficient to bind many of our sample objects to the Galaxy; a possible lower limit on the mass of the Galaxy is about 2.2 × 1012 M. To be more quantitative, we adopt a Bayesian likelihood approach to reproduce the observed distribution of the current positions and motions of the sample, in a prescribed Galactic potential that yields a flat rotation curve. This method enables a search for the most likely total mass of the Galaxy, without undue influence in the final result arising from the presence or absence of Leo I, provided that both radial velocities and proper motions are used. Although the best mass estimate depends somewhat on the model assumptions, such as the unknown prior probabilities for the model parameters, the resultant systematic change in the mass estimate is confined to a relatively narrow range of a few times 1011 M, owing to our consideration of many FHB stars. The most likely total mass derived from this method is 2.5-1.0+0.5 × 1012 M (including Leo I), and 1.8-0.7+0.4 × 1012 M (excluding Leo I). The derived mass estimate of the Galaxy within the distance to the Large Magellanic Cloud (∼50 kpc) is essentially independent of the model parameters, yielding 5.5-0.2+0.0 × 1011 M (including Leo I) and 5.4-0.4+0.1 × 1011 M (excluding Leo I). Implications for the origin of halo microlensing events (e.g., the possibility of brown dwarfs as the origin of the microlensing events toward the LMC, may be excluded by our lower mass limit) and prospects for more accurate estimates of the total mass are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)899-911
Number of pages13
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • Galaxy: fundamental parameters
  • Galaxy: halo
  • Galaxy: kinematics and dynamics
  • Stars: horizontal-branch


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