Thick disk

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Edge on view of the Milky Way with several structures indicated (not to scale). The Thick disk is shown in light yellow.

The thick disk is one of the structural components of several galaxies, including the Milky Way. It was first proposed as a unique galactic structure, different from the thin disk and the halo in an 1983 article by Gilmore & Reid.[1] It is supposed to dominate the stellar number density between 1 to 5 kiloparsecs (3.3 to 16.3 kly) above the Galactic plane[1] and is composed almost exclusively of older stars. Its chemical composition and kinematics (those of the stars comprising it) are also said to set it apart from the thin disk.[2][3] Stars within the thick disk may be called old-disk stars. Compared to stars in the thin disk, these typically have a significantly lower levels of metals—that is, the abundance of elements other than hydrogen and helium.[4]

The thick disk is a source of early kinematic and chemical evidence for a Galaxy's composition and thus is regarded as a very significant component for understanding Galaxy formation.


Various scenarios for the formation of this structure have been proposed, including:

  • Thick disks come from the heating of the thin disk.[5]
  • More energetic stars migrate outwards from the inner galaxy to form a thick disk at larger radii.[6] [7]
  • It is a result of a merger event between the Milky Way and another dwarf galaxy.[8]
  • Multiple small galactic mergers disturb stars from the thin disk so that progressively older stars are scattered out further, and even more so, far from the galactic center.[9]
  • The disc forms thick at high redshift with the thin disc forming later [10]


Although the thick disk is mentioned as a bona fide galactic structure in numerous scientific studies and it's even thought to be a common component of disk galaxies in general,[11] its nature is still under dispute.

The view of the thick disc as a single separate component has been questioned by a series of papers that describe the Galactic disc with a continuous spectrum of components with different thicknesses.[12] [13] [14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Gilmore & Reid, 1983, "New light on faint stars. III - Galactic structure towards the South Pole and the Galactic thick disc", [1]
  2. ^ Bensby & Feltzing, "The Galactic thin and thick discs in the context of galaxy formation", [2]
  3. ^ Kordopatis et al., "A spectroscopic survey of thick disc stars outside the solar neighbourhood", [3]
  4. ^ Freeman, Kenneth C. (Nov 12, 2010), Block, David L.; Freeman, Kenneth; Puerari, Ivânio, eds., "The HERMES Project: Reconstructing Galaxy Formation", Galaxies and their Masks: A Conference in Honour of K.C. Freeman, FRS (Springer Science & Business Media): 319, doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-7317-7_27, ISBN 978-1-4419-7316-0 
  5. ^ Matthias Steinmetz, The Galactic thin and thick disk (2012), p. 4"
  6. ^ R. Schoenrich & J. Binney, Chemical Evolution with Radial Migration (2009), [4]"
  7. ^ S. Loebman et al. The Genesis of the Milky Way's Thick Disk via Stellar Migration (2011), [5]"
  8. ^ Bensby et. al (August 2009). "The Galactic thin and thick discs in the context of galaxy formation". Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union 5 (Symposium S265): 300–303. arXiv:0908.3807v1. doi:10.1017/S1743921310000773. 
  9. ^ Fohlmeister, Janine (24 April 2015). "The riddle of galactic thin–thick disk solved". PhysOrg. Retrieved 24 May 2015. 
  10. ^ Brook et. al (2004). "The Emergence of the Thick Disk in a CDM Universe". The Astrophysical Journal 612 (2): 894. arXiv:astro-ph/0405306. doi:10.1086/422709. 
  11. ^ P.Yoachim & J. Dalcanton, Structural Parameters of Thin and Thick Disks in Edge-On Disk Galaxies (2012), [6]
  12. ^ R. Schoenrich & J. Binney, Origin and Structure of the Galactic Disc(s) (2009), [7]"
  13. ^ S. Loebman et al. The Genesis of the Milky Way's Thick Disk via Stellar Migration (2011), [8]"

External links[edit]