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A dwarf spheroidal galaxy (dSph) is a term in astronomy applied to small, low-luminosity galaxies with very little dust and an older stellar population. They are found in the Local Group as companions to the Milky Way and to systems that are companions to the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). While similar to dwarf elliptical galaxies in appearance and properties such as little to no gas or dust or recent star formation, they are approximately spheroidal in shape and generally have lower luminosity.

Carina Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxy, one of the lowest-luminosity dSphs

Discovering Dwarf Spheroidal GalaxiesEdit

Fornax Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxy, one of the first dwarf spheroidal galaxies discovered (1938)

Despite the radii of dSphs being much larger than those of globular clusters, they are much more difficult to find due to their low luminosities and surface brightnesses. Dwarf spheroidal galaxies have a large range of luminosities, and known dwarf spheroidal galaxies span several orders of magnitude of luminosity.[1] Their luminosities are so low that Ursa Minor, Carina, and Draco, the known dwarf spheroidal galaxies with the lowest luminosities, have mass-to-light ratios (M/L) greater than that of the Milky Way.[2]

The first dwarf spheroidal galaxies discovered were Sculptor and Fornax in 1938.[2] The Sloan Digital Sky Survey has resulted in the discovery of 11 more dSph galaxies as of 2007[3] By 2015, many more ultra-faint dSphs were discovered, all satellites of the Milky Way.[4] Nine potentially new dSphs were discovered in the Dark Energy Survey in 2015.[5] Each dSph is named after constellations they are discovered in, such as the Sagittarius dwarf spheroidal galaxy, all of which consist of stars generally much older than 1-2 Gyr that formed over the span of many gigayears.[2]

For example, 98% of the stars in the Carina dwarf spheroidal galaxy are older than 2 Gyr, formed over the course of three bursts around 3, 7, and 15 Gyr ago.[2] The stars in Carina have also been found to be metal-poor.[6] This is unlike star clusters because, while star clusters have stars form at once, dwarf spheroidal galaxies experience multiple bursts of star formation.[2]

Evidence of Dark Matter in dSph GalaxiesEdit

Because of the faintness of the lowest-luminosity dwarf spheroidal galaxies and the nature of the stars contained within them, some astronomers suggest that dwarf spheroidal galaxies and globular clusters may not be clearly separate and distinct types of objects.[7] Other recent studies, however, have found a distinction in that the total amount of mass inferred from the motions of stars in dwarf spheroidals is many times that which can be accounted for by the mass of the stars themselves. Studies reveal that dwarf spheroidal galaxies have a dynamical mass of around 10  solar masses, which is very large despite the low luminosity of dSph galaxies.[1]

Although at fainter luminosities of dwarf spheroidal galaxies, it is not universally agreed upon how to differentiate between a dwarf spheroidal galaxy and a star cluster; however, many astronomers decide this depending on the object's dynamics: if it seems to have more dark matter, then it is likely that it is a dwarf spheroidal galaxy rather than a faint star cluster. In the current predominantly accepted Lambda cold dark matter cosmological model, the presence of dark matter is often cited as a reason to classify dwarf spheroidal galaxies as a different class of object from globular clusters, which show little to no signs of dark matter. Because of the extremely large amounts of dark matter in dwarf spheroidal galaxies, they may deserve the title "most dark matter-dominated galaxies."[8]

Further evidence of the prevalence of dark matter in dSphs includes how a study of the Fornax dwarf spheroidal galaxy reveal that the Fornax dSph can be assumed to be in dynamic equilibrium to estimate mass and amount of dark matter since the gravitational effects of the Milky Way are small.[9] Unlike the Fornax galaxy, there is evidence that the UMa2, a dwarf spheroidal galaxy in the Ursa Major constellation, experiences strong tidal disturbances from the Milky Way.[5]

A topic of research is how much the internal dynamics of dwarf spheroidal galaxies are affected by the gravitational tidal dynamics of the galaxy they are orbiting. In other words, dwarf spheroidal galaxies could be prevented from achieving equilibrium due to the gravitational field of the Milky Way or other galaxy that they orbit.[2] For example, the Sextans dwarf spheroidal galaxy has a velocity dispersion of 7.9±1.3 km/s, which is a velocity dispersion that could not be explained solely by its stellar mass according to the Virial Theorem. Similar to Sextans, previous studies of Hercules dwarf spheroidal galaxy reveal that its orbital path does not correspond to the mass contained in Hercules.[10] Furthermore, there is evidence that the UMa2, a dwarf spheroidal galaxy in the Ursa Major constellation, experiences strong tidal disturbances from the Milky Way.[5]

NGC 147, a dwarf spheroidal galaxy of the Local Group


  1. ^ a b Strigari, Louis E.; Bullock, James S.; Kaplinghat, Manoj; Simon, Joshua D.; Geha, Marla; Willman, Beth; Walker, Matthew G. (2008-08-28). "A common mass scale for satellite galaxies of the Milky Way". Nature. 454 (7208): 1096–1097. ISSN 0028-0836. doi:10.1038/nature07222. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Sparke, L.S.; Gallagher, III, J.S. (2016). Galaxies in the Universe. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. pp. 162–165. ISBN 978-0-521-67186-6. 
  3. ^ Simon, Josh; Geha, Marla (November 2007), "The Kinematics of the Ultra-faint Milky Way Satellites: Solving the Missing Satellite Problem", The Astrophysical Journal, 670 (1): 313–331, Bibcode:2007ApJ...670..313S, arXiv:0706.0516 , doi:10.1086/521816 
  4. ^ Sergey E. Koposov; Vasily Belokurov; Gabriel Torrealba; N. Wyn Evans (10 March 2015). "Beasts of the Southern Wild. Discovery of a large number of Ultra Faint satellites in the vicinity of the Magellanic Clouds". The Astrophysical Journal. 805: 130. Bibcode:2015ApJ...805..130K. arXiv:1503.02079 . doi:10.1088/0004-637X/805/2/130. 
  5. ^ a b c Bonnivard, V.; Combet, C.; Daniel, M.; et al. (2015). "Dark matter annihilation and decay in dwarf spheroidal galaxies: the classical and ultrafaint dSphs". Monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 453: 849. 
  6. ^ Bono, G.; Stetson, P. B.; Walker, A. R.; Monelli, M.; Fabrizio, M.; Pietrinferni, A.; Brocato, E.; Buonanno, R.; F. Caputo (2010-01-01). "On the Stellar Content of the Carina Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxy". Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. 122 (892): 651. ISSN 1538-3873. doi:10.1086/653590. 
  7. ^ van den Bergh, Sidney (November 2007), "Globular Clusters and Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxies", MNRAS (Letters), in press, 385 (1): L20, Bibcode:2008MNRAS.385L..20V, arXiv:0711.4795 , doi:10.1111/j.1745-3933.2008.00424.x 
  8. ^ Strigari, Louie; Koushiappas, Savvas M.; Bullock, James S.; Kaplinghat, Manoj; Simon, Joshua D.; Geha, Marla; Willman, Beth; et al. (September 2007), "The Most Dark Matter Dominated Galaxies: Predicted Gamma-ray Signals from the Faintest Milky Way Dwarfs", The Astrophysical Journal, 678 (2): 614–620, Bibcode:2008ApJ...678..614S, arXiv:0709.1510 , doi:10.1086/529488 
  9. ^ Battaglia, Giuseppina; Sollima, Antonio; Nipoti, Carlo (2015). "The effect of tides on the Fornax dwarf spheroidal galaxy". Monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 454: 2401. 
  10. ^ Roderick, T.A.; Jerjen, H.; Da Costa, G.S.; Mackey, A.D. (2016). "Structural analysis of the Sextans dwarf spheroidal galaxy". Monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 460: 30.