Two-point Correlation Function Studies for the Milky Way: Discovery of Spatial Clustering from Disk Excitations and Substructure

Austin Hinkel, Susan Gardner, Brian Yanny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


We introduce a two-particle correlation function (2PCF) for the Milky Way, constructed to probe spatial correlations in the orthogonal directions of the stellar disk in the Galactic cylindrical coordinates of R, ϕ, and z. We use this new tool to probe the structure and dynamics of the Galaxy using the carefully selected set of solar neighborhood stars (d ≲ 3 kpc) from Gaia Data Release 2 that we previously employed for studies of axial symmetry breaking in stellar number counts. We make additional, extensive tests, comparing to reference numerical simulations, to ensure our control over possibly confounding systematic effects. Supposing either axial or north-south symmetry, we divide this data set into two nominally symmetric sectors and construct the 2PCF, in the manner of the Landy-Szalay estimator, from the Gaia data. In so doing, working well away from the midplane region in which the spiral arms appear, we have discovered distinct symmetry-breaking patterns in the 2PCF in its orthogonal directions, thus establishing the existence of correlations in stellar number counts alone at subkiloparsec length scales for the very first time. In particular, we observe extensive wavelike structures of amplitude greatly in excess of what we would estimate if the system were in a steady state. We study the variations in these patterns across the Galactic disk, and with increasing ∣z∣, and we show how our results complement other observations of non-steady-state effects near the Sun, such as vertical asymmetries in stellar number counts and the Gaia snail.

Original languageEnglish
Article number41
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023. The Author(s). Published by the American Astronomical Society.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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