Infrared Extinction and Stellar Populations in the Milky Way Midplane

Type Conference Paper
Names Gail Zasowski, S. R. Majewski, R. A. Benjamin, D. L. Nidever, M. F. Skrutskie, R. Indebetouw, R. J. Patterson, M. R. Meade, B. A. Whitney, B. Babler, E. Churchwell, C. Watson
Proceedings Title Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society
Conference Name American Astronomical Society, AAS Meeting #219, #137.04
Volume 219
Date January 1, 2012
Library Catalog NASA ADS
Abstract The primary laboratory for developing and testing models of galaxy formation, structure, and evolution is our own Milky Way, the closest large galaxy and the only one in which we can resolve large numbers of individual stars. The recent availability of extensive stellar surveys, particularly infrared ones, has enabled precise, contiguous measurement of large-scale Galactic properties, a major improvement over inferences based on selected, but scattered, sightlines. However, our ability to fully exploit the Milky Way as a galactic laboratory is severely hampered by the fact that its midplane and central bulge -- where most of the Galactic stellar mass lies -- is heavily obscured by interstellar dust. Therefore, proper consideration of the interstellar extinction is crucial. This thesis describes a new extinction-correction method (the RJCE method) that measures the foreground extinction towards each star and, in many cases, enables recovery of its intrinsic stellar type. We have demonstrated the RJCE Method's validity and used it to produce new, reliable extinction maps of the heavily-reddened Galactic midplane. Taking advantage of the recovered stellar type information, we have generated maps probing the extinction at different heliocentric distances, thus yielding information on the elusive three-dimensional distribution of the interstellar dust. We also performed a study of the interstellar extinction law itself which revealed variations previously undetected in the diffuse ISM and established constraints on models of ISM grain formation and evolution. Furthermore, we undertook a study of large-scale stellar structure in the inner Galaxy -- the bar(s), bulge(s), and inner spiral arms. We used observed and extinction-corrected infrared photometry to map the coherent stellar features in these heavily-obscured parts of the Galaxy, placing constraints on models of the central stellar mass distribution.
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