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Optical large-scale medium-resolution spectroscopic surveys such as SDSS, LAMOST, DESI, WEAVE or 4MOST are subject to constraints that limit the choice of flux calibrators, and the attained precision. The use of optical fibers, a large but limited field of view, the tiling strategies and tight schedules, are all factors that call for a careful evaluation of the flux calibration procedures.
The density of stars with well-known spectral energy distributions is so low that makes them unsuitable for flux calibration of large scale spectroscopic surveys. The alternative is to use stars with relatively simple spectra, which can be approximated well by synthetic spectra based on model atmospheres. One example are white dwarfs (Bohlin 1996), but their density is also too low for practical purposes: a few per square degree down to 19th magnitude. An alternative choice, exploited by the SDSS, are halo turn-off F-type stars (Stoughton et al.2002). A-type stars offer another option, albeit with lower densities at high Galactic latitudes (Allende Prieto del Burgo 2016). Ideally, one would use stars of various spectral types. The most common type, halo turn-off stars, can be used for the actual calibration, and the others for quality assessment.
The spectral typing needs to be performed before spectra are flux calibrated. Our group has explored various strategies for continuum normalization (the removal of the instrument response), finding good results using a running mean filter (Aguado et al.2017; Allende Prieto et al.2014). Interpolation in the models speeds up the model fitting process, but it is important to ensure that interpolations are sufficiently accurate (see, e.g. Mészáros Allende Prieto 2013).
Fiber-fed spectrographs are particularly challenging, since errors in positioning fibers, guiding errors, or differential atmospheric refraction, add up. In our tests with data from the Baryonic Oscillations Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS; Dawson et al.2016), we conclude that while the flux calibration is statistically accurate (<5%), individual spectra can exhibit much larger excursions, in excess of 20%.
Different from previous triennial reports, this report covers the activities of IAU Commission 36 ‘Theory of Stellar Atmospheres’ over the past six years†, and will be the last report from the ‘old’ Commission 36. After the General Assembly in Honolulu (August 2015), a new Commission ‘Stellar and Planetary Atmospheres’ (C.G5, under Division G, ‘Stars and Stellar Physics’) has come into life, and will continue our work devoted to the outer envelopes of stars, as well as extend it to the atmospheres of planets (see Sect. 4).
The business meeting of IAU Commission 36 took place during the GA in Beijing on August 27th, and its major topic was the re-structuring of the IAU Divisions and consequences for our Commission. The meeting was conducted by the new president, Joachim Puls, since the past president (still in charge during the GA), Martin Asplund, could not participate.
Although the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) was primarily envisioned as a tool for understanding the nature of the ‘high redshift’ universe, significant discoveries have already been made at lower redshift, z ∼ 0, through studies of stars in the Milky Way galaxy. We have begun to explore the nature of the Milky Way by detailed investigation of the publicly accessible SDSS archive, using spectroscopically targeted stars of special interest (e.g. field horizontal-branch stars, carbon-enhanced stars, and F- and G-type turnoff stars), as well as the stars originally selected as photometric and reddening standards. The first step is to use the SDSS data (which includes independently calibrated five-band photometry and spectrophotometry of individual stars) to derive reliable estimates of the stellar physical parameters, such as Teff, log g, and [Fe/H], for stars that have been observed to date. Of particular interest, at present, are the stars that are apparently associated with the Monoceros Stream (also known as the SDSS ‘Ring around the Galaxy’), for which we report derived metallicities. The techniques we have developed for derivation of the physical parameters for these stars are presently being applied to other stars in the SDSS database, including the Early Data Release (EDR), as well as the first official public database, DR-1. Here we report on the progress made to date, and comment on what might be explored in the near future from a dedicated extension of the SDSS survey (SEGUE) that specifically targets stars in the Milky Way.
With the goal of assembling a new generation of more realistic single stellar population (SSP) models, we have obtained magnesium abundances for nearly 80% of the stars of the widely employed MILES empirical spectral library. Additional spectroscopic observations of carefully selected stars have recently been obtained to improve the parametric coverage of this library. Here we report on: (i) the framework of Mg abundance determination carried out at mid-resolution, (ii) the newly acquired data, and (iii) the preliminary steps towards modelling stellar populations.
The science of extra-solar planets is one of the most rapidly changing areas of astrophysics and since 1995 the number of planets known has increased by almost two orders of magnitude. A combination of ground-based surveys and dedicated space missions has resulted in 560-plus planets being detected, and over 1200 that await confirmation. NASA's Kepler mission has opened up the possibility of discovering Earth-like planets in the habitable zone around some of the 100,000 stars it is surveying during its 3 to 4-year lifetime. The new ESA's Gaia mission is expected to discover thousands of new planets around stars within 200 parsecs of the Sun. The key challenge now is moving on from discovery, important though that remains, to characterisation: what are these planets actually like, and why are they as they are?
In the past ten years, we have learned how to obtain the first spectra of exoplanets using transit transmission and emission spectroscopy. With the high stability of Spitzer, Hubble, and large ground-based telescopes the spectra of bright close-in massive planets can be obtained and species like water vapour, methane, carbon monoxide and dioxide have been detected. With transit science came the first tangible remote sensing of these planetary bodies and so one can start to extrapolate from what has been learnt from Solar System probes to what one might plan to learn about their faraway siblings. As we learn more about the atmospheres, surfaces and near-surfaces of these remote bodies, we will begin to build up a clearer picture of their construction, history and suitability for life.
The Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory, EChO, will be the first dedicated mission to investigate the physics and chemistry of Exoplanetary Atmospheres. By characterising spectroscopically more bodies in different environments we will take detailed planetology out of the Solar System and into the Galaxy as a whole.
EChO has now been selected by the European Space Agency to be assessed as one of four M3 mission candidates.
The members of the Commission 36 Organizing Committee attending the IAU General Assembly in Rio de Janeiro met for a business session on August 7. Both members from the previous (2006–2009) and the new (2009–2012) Organizing Committee partook in the discussions. Past president John Landstreet described the work he had done over the past three years in terms of supporting proposed conferences on the topic. He has also spent significant amount of time establishing an updated mailing list of all >350 members of the commission, which is unfortunately not provided automatically by the IAU. Such a list is critical for a rapid dissemination of information to the commission members and for a correct and smooth running of elections of IAU officials. Everyone present thanked John effusively for all of his hard work over the past three years to stimulate a high level of activity within the discipline.
We discuss recent observations of stars located close to the symmetry plane of the Milky Way, and examine them in the context of theories of Galaxy formation and evolution. The kinematics, ages, and compositions of thin disk stars in the solar neighborhood display complex patterns, and interesting correlations. The Galactic disk does not seem to pose any unsurmountable obstacles to hierarchical galaxy formation theories, but a model of the Milky Way able to reproduce the complexity found in the data will likely require a meticulous study of a significant fraction of the stars in the Galaxy. Making such an observational effort seems necessary in order to make a physics laboratory out of our own galaxy, and ultimately ensure that the most relevant processes are properly understood.
Oxygen abundances for a large sample of dwarf and giant stars kinematically selected to be part of the Galactic thin and thick disks have been determined from a non-LTE analysis of the O I triplet lines at 777 nm. The abundance analysis was performed using the infrared flux method temperature scale, trigonometric surface gravities, and accurate atomic data. Within this framework, the ionization balance of iron lines could not be satisfied and so we adopted the iron abundances from Fe II lines only given that they are relatively less sensitive to changes in the atmospheric parameters. We show the resulting [O/Fe] vs. [Fe/H] relationship and briefly discuss its implications.
We report on the distribution of metallicities, [Fe/H], for very metal-poor stars in the halo of the Galaxy. Although the primary information on the nature of the Metallicity Distribution Function (MDF) is obtained from the two major recent surveys for metal-poor stars, the HK survey of Beers and collaborators, and the Hamburg/ESO Survey of Christlieb and collaborators, we also discuss the MDF derived from the publicly available database of stellar spectra and photometry contained in the third data release of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS DR-3). Even though the SDSS was not originally planned as a stellar survey, significant numbers of stars have been observed to date – DR-3 contains spectroscopy for over 70,000 stars, at least half of which are suitable for abundance determinations. There are as many very metal-poor ([Fe/H] $< -2.0$) stars in DR-3 as have been obtained from all previous survey efforts combined. We also discuss prospects for significant expansion of the list of metal-poor stars to be obtained from the recently funded extension of the SDSS, which includes the project SEGUE: Sloan Extension for Galactic Understanding and Evolution.
We present a new estimate of the mass of the Milky Way, making use of a large sample of 955 field horizontal-branch (FHB) stars from the Early Data Release of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. This sample of stars has been classified on the basis of an automated analysis approach, in combination with other methods, in order to obtain estimates of the physical parameters of the stars, i.e., Teff, log g, [Fe/H], and should be relatively free of contamination from halo blue stragglers. the stars all have measured radial velocities and photometric distance estimates, and the sample includes objects as distant as ~ 75 kpc from the Galactic center. Application of a Bayesian likelihood method, for a specific model of the Galaxy, indicates that the total mass of the Galaxy lies in the range 1.5 − 4.0 × 1012 M⊙. Our sample appears to reveal a clear signature of a dual halo population of FHB stars, with the boundary between the inner and outer halo around 20 kpc, and the possibility of rather striking differences in the rotational properties of the Galaxy at low metallicity.
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