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Orbital eccentricity as a probe of thick disc formation scenarios




We study the orbital properties of stars in four (published) simulations of thick discs formed by (i) accretion from disrupted satellites, (ii) heating of a pre-existing thin disc by a minor merger, (iii) radial migration and (iv) gas-rich mergers. We find that the distribution of orbital eccentricities is predicted to be different for each model: a prominent peak at low eccentricity is expected for the heating, migration and gas-rich merging scenarios, while the eccentricity distribution is broader and shifted towards higher values for the accretion model. These differences can be traced back to whether the bulk of the stars in each case is formed in situ or is accreted, and is robust to the peculiarities of each model. A simple test based on the eccentricity distribution of nearby thick-disc stars may thus help elucidate the dominant formation mechanism of the Galactic thick disc.