Are there any stars that orbit perpendicular to the Milky Way's galactic plane?

  • Most stars orbit in the Milky Way's galactic disc. But is it possible for one to orbit perpendicular to it?


    Here on Earth since we're inside the galactic plane we can't get a good view of what the Milky Way looks like. But would the whole Milky Way be visible from a planet orbiting such a star?


  • The Sun and most of the other stars are in the bulging disk of the Milky Way galaxy, but about 1% of the galaxy's stellar mass is in the galactic halo. The halo also includes 50 globular clusters and about 20 satellite galaxies according to Helmi 2008: The stellar halo of the Galaxy. Here is a nice graphic:


    enter image description here


    Note that the Sagittarius Stream of stars is extremely close to passing the galactic poles. If you were on a planet next to one of these stars as it passed a pole, you would probably have a glorious view of the Milky Way stellar disk.


    Bodies in the galactic halo don't necessarily follow the elliptical paths predicted by Kepler, so their orbits may not be consistently perpendicular to the galactic plane. Some stellar streams have extremely odd orbital paths like the Phlegethon stellar stream, referenced in this answer:


    enter image description here


    There is some speculation that the Halo stellar streams are the remnants of dwarf galaxies the Milky Way has absorbed. Indeed, Liang et al. say that:



    the Galactic halo has complicated assembly history and it not only
    interacts but also [is] strongly mixed with other components of the Galaxy
    and satellite dwarf galaxies



    I'm already jealous of people living close to the poles because they get to watch aurorae, of people living far away from light pollution, and of people living in the southern hemisphere because they can see wonderful celestial objects. Now I'm *really* jealous of aliens living in the Sagittarius stream.

    Well, you can think they are quite lonely. What is the average separation between stars in the galactic halo? I guess the closest neighbor to most of them is hundreds of ly away.

    Do we have a good sense of how big in the sky the Milky way would be from a hypothetical Earth-like planet in the Sagittarius Stream (at "typical" or furthest extent)? Andromeda sized? Moon sized? Filling-up-half-the-sky sized?

    @R.M. as seen from close to the galactic poles, the Milky Way should be 90° wide, shouldn't it? 1 radius away, 2 radii wide. ◺

    @ksousa The galactic halo has a lot of substructure and star clumps that astronomers refer to as "overdensities". So while the average distance between stars in the halo is large, a star picked at random is likely to be in a star-dense region of space. This would be another great questions for Astronomy Stack Exchange.

    @R.M. The above graphic is somewhat misleading about the distribution of stars in the Halo as it depicts them in a thin "shell" around the galactic disk. The orbits among stars in the Galactic Halo vary enormously. Some pass quite near the center of the galaxy and then zoom way out again, similar to a comet in our Solar System. Since their position in the shell varies, we would expect the apparent size of the Milky Way from their vantage point to vary accordingly. These stars are often called Population II stars.

    @ksousa not necessarily any lonelier than us — for as "close" as the nearby stars are, we've never been to any of them, or found any neighbors to talk to.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM