Charting Galactic Accelerations with Stellar Streams and Machine Learning

Jacob Nibauer, Vasily Belokurov, Miles Cranmer, Jeremy Goodman, Shirley Ho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


We present a data-driven method for reconstructing the galactic acceleration field from phase-space (position and velocity) measurements of stellar streams. Our approach is based on a flexible and differentiable fit to the stream in phase-space, enabling a direct estimate of the acceleration vector along the stream. Reconstruction of the local acceleration field can be applied independently to each of several streams, allowing us to sample the acceleration field due to the underlying galactic potential across a range of scales. Our approach is methodologically different from previous works, as a model for the gravitational potential does not need to be adopted beforehand. Instead, our flexible neural-network-based model treats the stream as a collection of orbits with a locally similar mixture of energies, rather than assuming that the stream delineates a single stellar orbit. Accordingly, our approach allows for distinct regions of the stream to have different mean energies, as is the case for real stellar streams. Once the acceleration vector is sampled along the stream, standard analytic models for the galactic potential can then be rapidly constrained. We find our method recovers the correct parameters for a ground-truth triaxial logarithmic halo potential when applied to simulated stellar streams. Alternatively, we demonstrate that a flexible potential can be constrained with a neural network, and standard multipole expansions can also be constrained. Our approach is applicable to simple and complicated gravitational potentials alike and enables potential reconstruction from a fully data-driven standpoint using measurements of slowly phase-mixing tidal debris.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number22
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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