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Astron. Astrophys. 357, 871-880 (2000)

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5. Conclusion

To summarize, we presented the detection of [FORMULA]1 500 RRab stars located in the Sgr dwarf galaxy. A surface density map based on the spatial distribution of these variables unveiled the structure of this dwarf galaxy in a region that was still almost unexplored so far between [FORMULA] and [FORMULA]. The core of Sgr is best fitted by an exponential with a scale length of [FORMULA] along the major axis. A cross section of this density map revealed a break in the slope occurring at [FORMULA] from the highest density region of Sgr and an almost flat density past the break.

Although the break coincided with the change of field we have shown that this is unlikely to be an experimental effect since it is also perceptible in the uncorrected density, whereas the DUO field is intrinsically more sensitive to crowding than SAG (lower resolution, lower extinction). Also, as shown in Sect. 4.2, the amplitude cuts used in this study cannot be considered as responsible for the break. Finally, could this break be a consequence of an overestimation of the completeness correction in DUO relative to SAG ? Though not excluded, this would be in conflict with what is observed in the overlap where 3 RRab blended by a neighbouring star were detected in SAG and missed in DUO , a result that is quite consistent with the corrections actually applied. We argue therefore that the break is real. The significance of the break relative to an exponential with a scale length of [FORMULA] is [FORMULA]2[FORMULA]. MOM also observed a break in their density profile in the Southern extension of Sgr. However neither the location ([FORMULA] from the centre) nor the density at the break location ([FORMULA]29.0 mag.arcsec-2) are consistent with our values ([FORMULA] and [FORMULA]26.7 mag.arcsec-2) implying that either the main body of Sgr is not symmetric or these "post-break" stars are not directly related to it.

Another striking feature revealed by the surface density profile is its flatness past the break. This feature relies on the accuracy of the completeness correction over the field, a correction that becomes quite important at low Galactic latitudes (up to 60[FORMULA]). Yet, the difficulty of modeling point spread functions on photographic plates (due to non-linear response of the emulsion) and potential systematic errors caused by differential sensitivity over the plate makes the crowding correction rather uncertain. Therefore, although our completeness corrections are fairly consistent within the overlap, we cannot exclude that the flatness of the density profile in the outer regions is a consequence of an overcorrection. Wide-field high resolution imaging would be necessary in these extremely crowded regions (up to [FORMULA]106 stars per square degree at our magnitude limit) to confirm or to rule out this issue. Nevertheless, even if we consider that our completeness corrections are overestimated by a factor of 2 (a quite conservative estimate), it remains that the density profile decreases slowly in the outer regions and Sgr may well be extending even further out towards (beyond?) the Galactic plane.

Johnston et al. (1999) recently modeled the Sgr stream as a superposition of a main body and tidal streams of stars stripped on previous peri-centric passages. This scenario has been worked out to explain both the break observed by MOM and the possible detection of stars in the outer region of Sgr with different radial velocities relative to those of the main body (Majewski et al. 1999). Similarly, spectroscopic observations on our RR Lyrae catalogue could allow to determine the nature of the stars in the outer region: if these stars are linked to the main body of Sgr, then they should share almost the same radial velocities as the main body (apart of a gradient along the main axis due to the rapidly varying Galactic potential). On the other hand, if the break we observe corresponds to a transition between the main body and an unbound tidal stream from a previous orbit, it is likely that the two objects will have different radial velocities. This new catalogue of RR Lyrae is an interesting opportunity to study further a region of Sgr that has been poorly investigated so far.

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© European Southern Observatory (ESO) 2000

Online publication: June 5, 2000