The formation and assembly history of the Milky Way revealed by its globular cluster population

J. M. Diederik Kruijssen, Joel L. Pfeffer, Marta Reina-Campos, Robert A. Crain, Nate Bastian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

220 Citations (Scopus)


We use the age-metallicity distribution of 96 Galactic globular clusters (GCs) to infer the formation and assembly history of the Milky Way (MW), culminating in the reconstruction of its merger tree. Based on a quantitative comparison of the Galactic GC population to the 25 cosmological zoom-in simulations of MW-mass galaxies in the E-MOSAICS project, which self-consistently model the formation and evolution of GC populations in a cosmological context, we find that the MW assembled quickly for its mass, reaching {25, 50} per cent of its present-day halo mass already at z = {3, 1.5} and half of its present-day stellar mass at z = 1.2. We reconstruct the MW's merger tree from its GC age-metallicity distribution, inferring the number of mergers as a function of mass ratio and redshift. These statistics place the MW's assembly rate among the 72th-94th percentile of the E-MOSAICS galaxies, whereas its integrated properties (e.g. number of mergers, halo concentration) match the median of the simulations. We conclude that the MW has experienced no major mergers (mass ratios >1:4) since z ̃ 4, sharpening previous limits of z ̃ 2. We identify three massive satellite progenitors and constrain their mass growth and enrichment histories. Two are proposed to correspond to Sagittarius (a few 108 M) and the GCs formerly associated with Canis Major (̃ 10^9 M_☉). The third satellite has no known associated relic and was likely accreted between z = 0.6 and 1.3. We name this enigmatic galaxy Kraken and propose that it is the most massive satellite (M_*̃ 2× 10^9 M_☉) ever accreted by the MW. We predict that ̃40 per cent of the Galactic GCs formed ex situ (in galaxies with masses M* = 2 × 107-2× 10^9 M_☉), with 6 ± 1 being former nuclear clusters....
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3180-3202
Number of pages23
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2019
Externally publishedYes


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