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The satellites of the Milky Way

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The standard model of cosmology states that the dark matter present in the Universe consists of particles that only interact gravitationally. This model is extremely successful in explaining the large scale structure, from the Cosmic Microwave Background, to how galaxies distribute in the Universe. At small scales, however, it fails to reproduce our observations. If this mismatch is due to the simplicity of our simulations, a fundamental flaw in the models, or simply a lack of observational constrains, is still a matter of debate. In the context of the cold dark matter paradigm, all structure formation is dominated by dark matter, which clumps together to form halos that host galaxies. This process of formation of galaxies is hierarchical: small galaxies are formed first to then become the building blocks of bigger galaxies through merging and accretion. This process is not innocuous, when the dwarfs (the smaller galaxies) are dragged into the deeper potential wells, most will be destroyed by the tidal forces exerted upon them, leaving trails and shells of their former stars in the process. These remnants will eventually mix well enough to finally became part of their new host. However, some may resist this process of accretion and survive to become satellites orbiting the larger galaxy. These signatures, fossils of the process of galactic formation, provide invaluable information to unveil the details of the formation of galaxies and can be used as the tools to constrain our models of the Universe. To study this signatures in detail, we have our own backyard laboraory: the Milky Way and the local group.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Astronomical Society (CUAS) series.

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