The Galactic 3D large-scale dust distribution via Gaussian process regression on spherical coordinates


Submitted on 25 April 2022


Knowing the Galactic 3D dust distribution is relevant for understanding many processes in the interstellar medium and for correcting many astronomical observations for dust absorption and emission. Here, we aim for a 3D reconstruction of the Galactic dust distribution with an increase in the number of meaningful resolution elements by orders of magnitude with respect to previous reconstructions, while taking advantage of the dust's spatial correlations to inform the dust map. We use iterative grid refinement to define a log-normal process in spherical coordinates. This log-normal process assumes a fixed correlation structure, which was inferred in an earlier reconstruction of Galactic dust. Our map is informed through 111 Million data points, combining data of PANSTARRS, 2MASS, Gaia DR2 and ALLWISE. The log-normal process is discretized to 122 Billion degrees of freedom, a factor of 400 more than our previous map. We derive the most probable posterior map and an uncertainty estimate using natural gradient descent and the Fisher-Laplace approximation. The dust reconstruction covers a quarter of the volume of our Galaxy, with a maximum coordinate distance of $16\,\text{kpc}$, and meaningful information can be found up to at distances of $4\,$kpc, still improving upon our earlier map by a factor of 5 in maximal distance, of $900$ in volume, and of about eighteen in angular grid resolution. Unfortunately, the maximum posterior approach chosen to make the reconstruction computational affordable introduces artifacts and reduces the accuracy of our uncertainty estimate. Despite of the apparent limitations of the presented 3D dust map, a good part of the reconstructed structures are confirmed by independent maser observations. Thus, the map is a step towards reliable 3D Galactic cartography and already can serve for a number of tasks, if used with care.


Subjects: Astrophysics - Astrophysics of Galaxies; Astrophysics - Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics; Statistics - Machine Learning