Dr Payel Das

UKRI Future Leaders Fellow
PhD Astrophysics
Tuesday to Friday, 08.30 to 04:30

Academic and research departments

Department of Physics, Astrophysics Research Group.



In the media

The Sky at Night - Gaia: A Galactic Revolution
A few minutes of discussion about stellar ages with Gaia


Research interests


Andrew Everall, Payel Das (2020)seestar: Selection functions for spectroscopic surveys of the Milky Way, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society493(2)pp. 2042-2058 Oxford University Press

Selection functions are vital for understanding the observational biases of spectroscopic surveys. With the wide variety of multiobject spectrographs currently in operation and becoming available soon, we require easily generalizable methods for determining the selection functions of these surveys. Previous work, however, has largely been focused on generating individual, tailored selection functions for every data release of each survey. Moreover, no methods for combining these selection functions to be used for joint catalogues have been developed. We have developed a Poisson likelihood estimation method for calculating selection functions in a Bayesian framework, which can be generalized to any multiobject spectrograph. We include a robust treatment of overlapping fields within a survey as well as selection functions for combined samples with overlapping footprints. We also provide a method for transforming the selection function that depends on the sky positions, colour, and apparent magnitude of a star to one that depends on the galactic location, metallicity, mass, and age of a star. This ‘intrinsic’ selection function is invaluable for chemodynamical models of the Milky Way. We demonstrate that our method is successful at recreating synthetic spectroscopic samples selected from a mock galaxy catalogue.

J. I. Read, GA Mamon, Eugene Vasiliev, L L Watkins, Matthew G Walker, J Penarrubia, MI Wilkinson, W Dehnen, P. Das (2021)Breaking beta: a comparison of mass modelling methods for spherical systems, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society501(1)pp. 978-993 Oxford University Press

We apply four different mass modelling methods to a suite of publicly available mock data for spherical stellar systems. We focus on the recovery of the density and velocity anisotropy as a function of radius, either using line-of-sight velocity data only or adding proper motion data. All methods perform well on isotropic and tangentially anisotropic mock data, recovering the density and velocity anisotropy within their 95 per cent confidence intervals over the radial range 0.25 < R/R1/2 < 4, where R1/2 is the half-light radius. However, radially anisotropic mocks are more challenging. For line-of-sight data alone, only methods that use information about the shape of the velocity distribution function are able to break the degeneracy between the density profile and the velocity anisotropy, β, to obtain an unbiased estimate of both. This shape information can be obtained through directly fitting a global phase-space distribution function, by using higher order ‘virial shape parameters’ or by assuming a Gaussian velocity distribution function locally, but projecting it self-consistently along the line of sight. Including proper motion data yields further improvements, and in this case, all methods give a good recovery of both the radial density and velocity anisotropy profiles.

Holly Jackson, P. Jofré, Keaghan Yaxley, Payel Das, Danielle de Brito Silva, RJ Foley (2021)Using heritability of stellar chemistry to reveal the history of the Milky Way, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society502(1)pp. 32-47 Oxford University Press

Since chemical abundances are inherited between generations of stars, we use them to trace the evolutionary history of our Galaxy. We present a robust methodology for creating a phylogenetic tree, a biological tool used for centuries to study heritability. Combining our phylogeny with information on stellar ages and dynamical properties, we reconstruct the shared history of 78 stars in the Solar Neighbourhood. The branching pattern in our tree supports a scenario in which the thick disk is an ancestral population of the thin disk. The transition from thick to thin disk shows an anomaly, which we attribute to a star formation burst. Our tree shows a further signature of the variability in stars similar to the Sun, perhaps linked to a minor star formation enhancement creating our Solar System. In this paper, we demonstrate the immense potential of a phylogenetic perspective and interdisciplinary collaboration, where with borrowed techniques from biology we can study key processes that have contributed to the evolution of the Milky Way.

Payel Das, Keith Hawkins, Paula Jofré (2020)Ages and kinematics of chemically selected, accreted Milky Way halo stars, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society493(4)pp. 5195-5207 Oxford University Press

We exploit the [Mg/Mn]-[Al/Fe] chemical abundance plane to help identify nearby halo stars in the 14th data release from the APOGEE survey that have been accreted on to the Milky Way. Applying a Gaussian Mixture Model, we find a ‘blob’ of 856 likely accreted stars, with a low disc contamination rate of ∼7 per cent. Cross-matching the sample with the second data release from Gaia gives us access to parallaxes and apparent magnitudes, which place constraints on distances and intrinsic luminosities. Using a Bayesian isochrone pipeline, this enables us to estimate new ages for the accreted stars, with typical uncertainties of ∼20 per cent. This does not account for systematic uncertainties. Our new catalogue is further supplemented with estimates of orbital parameters. The blob stars span [Fe/H] between −2.5 to −0.5, and [Mg/Fe] between −0.1 to 0.5. They constitute ∼30 per cent of the metal-poor ([Fe/H] < −0.8) halo at [Fe/H] ∼ −1.4. Our new ages mainly range between 8 to 13 Gyr, with the oldest stars the metal-poorest, and with the highest [Mg/Fe] abundance. If the blob stars are assumed to belong to a single progenitor, the ages imply that star formation lasted 5 Gyr after which the system merged with our Milky Way around 8 Gyr ago. Dynamical arguments suggest that such a single progenitor would have had a total mass of $\sim 10^{11}\, \mathrm{M}_{\odot }$, similar to that found by other authors using chemical evolution models and simulations.