Runaway Stars in the Galactic Halo: Their Origin and Kinematics
Silva, Manuel Duarte de Vasconcelos
Star formation in the Milky Way is confined to star-forming regions (OB associ- ation, HII regions, and open clusters) in the Galactic plane. It is usually assumed that these regions are found preferably along spiral arms, as is observed in other spiral galaxies. However, young early-type stars are often found at high Galactic latitudes, far away from their birthplaces in the Galactic disc. These stars are called runaway stars, and it is believed that they were ejected from their birth- places early in their lifetimes by one of two mechanisms: ejection from a binary system following the destruction of the massive companion in a supernova type II event (the binary ejection mechanism), or ejection from a dense cluster following a close gravitational encounter between two close binaries (the dynamical ejection mechanism). The aims of our study were: to improve the current understanding of the nature of high Galactic latitude runaway stars, in particular by investigating whether the theoretical ejection mechanisms could explain the more extreme cases; to show the feasibility of using high Galactic latitude stars as tracers of the spiral arms. The main technique used in this investigation was the tracing of stellar orbits back in time, given their present positions and velocities in 3D space. This technique allowed the determination of the ejection velocities, flight times and birthplaces of a sample of runaway stars. In order to obtain reasonable velocity estimates several recent catalogues of proper motion data were used. We found that the evolutionary ages of the vast majority of runaway stars is consistent with the disc ejection scenario. However, we identified three outliers which would need flight times much larger then their estimated ages in order to reach their present positions in the sky. Moreover, the ejection velocity distribution appears to be bimodal, showing evidence for two populations of runaway stars: a “low” velocity population (89 per cent of the sample), with a maximum ejection velocity of about 300 kms−1, and a “high” velocity population, with ejection velo- cities of 400 – 500 kms−1. We argue that the observed bimodality and maximum ejection velocity of 500 kms−1 can be interpreted as a natural consequence of a variation of the binary ejection mechanism. A possible connection between the “high” velocity population and the so-called hypervelocity stars is also explored, resulting in the conclusion that some stars previously identified as hypervelocity may be in fact runaway stars. The feasibility of using stars as tracers of the spiral arms was tested on a local sample, in order to obtain better quality data and larger numbers. We found that the spiral arms pattern speeds estimated from this sample (24.9±5.2 kms−1 kpc−1) and from a selected sample of runaways (22.8 ± 7.8 kms−1 kpc−1) are consistent within the errors and also consistent with other published estimates. We concluded that our estimates combined with the ones obtained in other studies suggest a value in the range 20 − 25 kms−1 kpc−1 for the pattern speed. Moreover, we concluded that an adequate representation of the spiral arms is obtained given the former pattern speed estimate, even when applied to the sample of runaway stars.