The Milky Way as a benchmark: using surveys of our Galaxy to inform fundamental astrophysics
The Milky Way is currently the only galaxy in which we can study the detailed kinematic and chemical properties of large numbers of stars. It, therefore, provides a unique laboratory to test predictions made by astrophysical models of dark matter and galaxy assembly. In this talk, I will focus on how the recent confluence of all-sky photometric, astrometric, and spectroscopic surveys of Milky Way stars has enabled new dynamical constraints on the nature of dark matter. However, these surveys have also presented challenges to many of the simplifying assumptions that have enabled these inferences, for example by revealing the imprints of time-dependence and disequilibrium in the kinematics of stars throughout the Galaxy. I will discuss ways in which we can generalize our dynamical models and improve our statistical inferences to make and test precise astrophysical predictions about dark matter and galaxy formation using stars in the Milky Way.