Publications by James Binney

A review of action estimation methods for galactic dynamics

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Oxford University Press 457 (2016) 2107-2121

JL Sanders, J Binney

We review the available methods for estimating actions, angles and frequencies of orbits in both axisymmetric and triaxial potentials. The methods are separated into two classes. Unless an orbit has been trapped by a resonance, convergent, or iterative, methods are able to recover the actions to arbitrarily high accuracy given sufficient computing time. Faster non-convergent methods rely on the potential being sufficiently close to a separable potential, and the accuracy of the action estimate cannot be improved through further computation. We critically compare the accuracy of the methods and the required computation time for a range of orbits in an axisymmetric multicomponent Galactic potential. We introduce a new method for estimating actions that builds on the adiabatic approximation of Schönrich and Binney and discuss the accuracy required for the actions, angles and frequencies using suitable distribution functions for the thin and thick discs, the stellar halo and a star stream. We conclude that for studies of the disc and smooth halo component of the Milky Way, the most suitable compromise between speed and accuracy is the Stäckel Fudge, whilst when studying streams the non-convergent methods do not offer sufficient accuracy and the most suitable method is computing the actions from an orbit integration via a generating function. All the software used in this study can be downloaded from

Show full publication list