Spiral galaxy

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Spiral galaxy
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{{Use dmy dates|date=January 2014}}File:M101 hires STScI-PRC2006-10a.jpg|thumb|An example of a spiral galaxy, the 285x285pxSpiral galaxies form a class of galaxy originally described by Edwin Hubble in his 1936 work The Realm of the NebulaeBOOK,weblink The realm of the nebulae, Hubble, E.P., Yale University Press, 1936, 9780300025002, Mrs. Hepsa Ely Silliman memorial lectures, 25, New Haven, 611263346, Edwin Hubble,weblink 2012-09-29, (pp. 124–151) and, as such, form part of the Hubble sequence. Most spiral galaxies consist of a flat, rotating disk containing stars, gas and dust, and a central concentration of stars known as the bulge. These are often surrounded by a much fainter halo of stars, many of which reside in globular clusters.Spiral galaxies are named by their spiral structures that extend from the center into the galactic disc. The spiral arms are sites of ongoing star formation and are brighter than the surrounding disc because of the young, hot OB stars that inhabit them.Roughly two-thirds of all spirals are observed to have an additional component in the form of a bar-like structure,BOOK, D. Mihalas, 1968, Galactic Astronomy, W. H. Freeman, 978-0-7167-0326-6, extending from the central bulge, at the ends of which the spiral arms begin. The proportion of barred spirals relative to their barless cousins has likely changed over the history of the Universe, with only about 10% containing bars about 8 billion years ago, to roughly a quarter 2.5 billion years ago, until present, where over two-thirds of the galaxies in the visible universe (Hubble volume) have bars.NEWS,weblink Hubble and Galaxy Zoo Find Bars and Baby Galaxies Don't Mix, 16 January 2014, Science Daily, Our own Milky Way is a barred spiral, although the bar itself is difficult to observe from the Earth's current position within the galactic disc.MAGAZINE,weblink yes,weblink" title="">weblink Ripples in a Galactic Pond, Scientific American, October 2005, The most convincing evidence for the stars forming a bar in the galactic center comes from several recent surveys, including the Spitzer Space Telescope.JOURNAL, September 2005, First GLIMPSE Results on the Stellar Structure of the Galaxy, The Astrophysical Journal Letters, 630, 2, L149–L152, astro-ph/0508325, 2005ApJ...630L.149B, 10.1086/491785, R. A. Benjamin, E. Churchwell, B. L. Babler, R. Indebetouw, M. R. Meade, B. A. Whitney, C. Watson, M. G. Wolfire, M. J. Wolff, R. Ignace, T. M. Bania, S. Bracker, D. P. Clemens, L. Chomiuk, M. Cohen, J. M. Dickey, J. M. Jackson, H. A. Kobulnicky, E. P. Mercer, J. S. Mathis, S. R. Stolovy, B. Uzpen, Together with irregular galaxies, spiral galaxies make up approximately 60% of galaxies in today's universe.JOURNAL, February 1996, The APM Bright Galaxy Catalogue, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 278, 4, 1025–1048, astro-ph/9603040, 1996MNRAS.278.1025L, 10.1093/mnras/278.4.1025, Loveday, J., They are mostly found in low-density regions and are rare in the centers of galaxy clusters.JOURNAL, March 1980, Galaxy morphology in rich clusters â€” Implications for the formation and evolution of galaxies, The Astrophysical Journal, 236, 351–365, 1980ApJ...236..351D, 10.1086/157753, Dressler, A.,


File:UGC 12158.jpg|thumb|Barred spiral galaxy UGC 12158UGC 12158Spiral galaxies may consist of several distinct components: The relative importance, in terms of mass, brightness and size, of the different components varies from galaxy to galaxy.

Spiral arms

File:HAWK-I NGC 1300.jpg|thumb|NGC 1300 in infraredinfraredSpiral arms are regions of stars that extend from the center of spiral and barred spiral galaxies. These long, thin regions resemble a spiral and thus give spiral galaxies their name. Naturally, different classifications of spiral galaxies have distinct arm-structures. Sc and SBc galaxies, for instance, have very "loose" arms, whereas Sa and SBa galaxies have tightly wrapped arms (with reference to the Hubble sequence). Either way, spiral arms contain many young, blue stars (due to the high mass density and the high rate of star formation), which make the arms so bright.


A bulge is a large, tightly packed group of stars. The term refers to the central group of stars found in most spiral galaxies, often defined as the excess of stellar light above the inward extrapolation of the outer (exponential) disk light.Using the Hubble classification, the bulge of Sa galaxies is usually composed of Population II stars, that are old, red stars with low metal content. Further, the bulge of Sa and SBa galaxies tends to be large. In contrast, the bulges of Sc and SBc galaxies are much smallerAlister W. Graham and C. Clare Worley (2008), Inclination- and dust-corrected galaxy parameters: bulge-to-disc ratios and size-luminosity relations and are composed of young, blue Population I stars. Some bulges have similar properties to those of elliptical galaxies (scaled down to lower mass and luminosity); others simply appear as higher density centers of disks, with properties similar to disk galaxies.Many bulges are thought to host a supermassive black hole at their centers. Such black holes have never been directly observed, but many indirect proofs exist. In our own galaxy, for instance, the object called Sagittarius A* is believed to be a supermassive black hole.


Bar-shaped elongations of stars are observed in roughly two-thirds of all spiral Vaucouleurs, G.; de Vaucouleurs, A.; Corwin, H. G., Jr.; Buta, R. J.; Paturel, G.; Fouqué, P. (2016), Third Reference Catalogue of Bright GalaxiesB.D. Simmons et al. (2014), Galaxy Zoo: CANDELS barred discs and bar fractions Their presence may be either strong or weak. In edge-on spiral (and lenticular) galaxies, the presence of the bar can sometimes be discerned by the out-of-plane X-shaped or (peanut shell)-shaped structuresAstronomy Now (8 May 2016), Astronomers detect double ‘peanut shell’ galaxiesBogdan C. Ciambur and Alister W. Graham (2016), Quantifying the (X/peanut)-shaped structure in edge-on disc galaxies: length, strength, and nested peanuts which typically have a maximum visibility at half the length of the in-plane bar.

Spheroid{{anchor|Galactic spheroid}}

File:NGC 1345 HST.jpg|thumb|Spiral galaxy NGC 1345NGC 1345The bulk of the stars in a spiral galaxy are located either close to a single plane (the galactic plane) in more or less conventional circular orbits around the center of the galaxy (the Galactic Center), or in a spheroidal galactic bulge around the galactic core.However, some stars inhabit a spheroidal halo or galactic spheroid, a type of galactic halo. The orbital behaviour of these stars is disputed, but they may describe retrograde and/or highly inclined orbits, or not move in regular orbits at all. Halo stars may be acquired from small galaxies which fall into and merge with the spiral galaxy—for example, the Sagittarius Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxy is in the process of merging with the Milky Way and observations show that some stars in the halo of the Milky Way have been acquired from it.File:A mess of stars.jpg|left|thumb|NGC 428 is a barred spiral galaxy, located approximately 48 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Cetus.WEB, A mess of stars,weblink 11 August 2015, ]]Unlike the galactic disc, the halo seems to be free of dust, and in further contrast, stars in the galactic halo are of Population II, much older and with much lower metallicity than their Population I cousins in the galactic disc (but similar to those in the galactic bulge). The galactic halo also contains many globular clusters.The motion of halo stars does bring them through the disc on occasion, and a number of small red dwarfs close to the Sun are thought to belong to the galactic halo, for example Kapteyn's Star and Groombridge 1830. Due to their irregular movement around the center of the galaxy, these stars often display unusually high proper motion.

Oldest spiral galaxy

The oldest spiral galaxy on file is BX442. At eleven billion years old, it is more than two billion years older than any previous discovery. Researchers think the galaxy’s shape is caused by the gravitational influence of a companion dwarf galaxy. Computer models based on that assumption indicate that BX442's spiral structure will last about 100 million years.Oldest spiral galaxy is a freak of cosmosweblink Gonzalez, Robert T., Hubble Has Spotted an Ancient Galaxy That Shouldn't Exist,weblink io9, 10 September 2012, 19 July 2012,

Origin of the spiral structure

File:NGC 6384 HST.jpg|thumb|Spiral galaxy NGC 6384 taken by Hubble Space TelescopeHubble Space TelescopeFile:A spiral home to exploding stars.jpg|thumb|The spiral galaxy NGC 1084, home of five supernovasupernovaThe pioneer of studies of the rotation of the Galaxy and the formation of the spiral arms was Bertil Lindblad in 1925. He realized that the idea of stars arranged permanently in a spiral shape was untenable. Since the angular speed of rotation of the galactic disk varies with distance from the centre of the galaxy (via a standard solar system type of gravitational model), a radial arm (like a spoke) would quickly become curved as the galaxy rotates. The arm would, after a few galactic rotations, become increasingly curved and wind around the galaxy ever tighter. This is called the winding problem. Measurements in the late 1960s showed that the orbital velocity of stars in spiral galaxies with respect to their distance from the galactic center is indeed higher than expected from Newtonian dynamics but still cannot explain the stability of the spiral structure.Since the 1970s, there have been two leading hypotheses or models for the spiral structures of galaxies:
  • star formation caused by density waves in the galactic disk of the galaxy.
  • the stochastic self-propagating star formation model (SSPSF model) – star formation caused by shock waves in the interstellar medium. The shock waves are caused by the stellar winds and supernovae from recent previous star formation, leading to self-propagating and self-sustaining star formation. Spiral structure then arises from differential rotation of the galaxy's disk.
These different hypotheses are not mutually exclusive, as they may explain different types of spiral arms.

Density wave model

(File:Galaxy rotation wave.ogv|thumb|right|Animation of orbits as predicted by the density wave theory, which explains the existence of stable spiral arms. Stars move in and out of the spiral arms as they orbit the galaxy.)Bertil Lindblad proposed that the arms represent regions of enhanced density (density waves) that rotate more slowly than the galaxy’s stars and gas. As gas enters a density wave, it gets squeezed and makes new stars, some of which are short-lived blue stars that light the arms.

Historical theory of Lin and Shu

(File:spiral galaxy arms diagram.svg|thumb|right|Exaggerated diagram illustrating Lin and Shu's explanation of spiral arms in terms of slightly elliptical orbits.)The first acceptable theory for the spiral structure was devised by C. C. Lin and Frank Shu in 1964,JOURNAL, August 1964, On the spiral structure of disk galaxies, The Astrophysical Journal, 140, 646–655, 1964ApJ...140..646L, 10.1086/147955, Lin, C. C., Shu, F. H., attempting to explain the large-scale structure of spirals in terms of a small-amplitude wave propagating with fixed angular velocity, that revolves around the galaxy at a speed different from that of the galaxy's gas and stars. They suggested that the spiral arms were manifestations of spiral density waves - they assumed that the stars travel in slightly elliptical orbits, and that the orientations of their orbits is correlated i.e. the ellipses vary in their orientation (one to another) in a smooth way with increasing distance from the galactic center. This is illustrated in the diagram to the right. It is clear that the elliptical orbits come close together in certain areas to give the effect of arms. Stars therefore do not remain forever in the position that we now see them in, but pass through the arms as they travel in their orbits.{{citation|title=The Guide to the Galaxy|first=Nigel|last=Henbest|publisher=Cambridge University Press|date=1994|isbn=9780521458825|url=|page=74|quote=Lin and Shu showed that this spiral pattern would persist more or less for ever, even though individual stars and gas clouds are always drifting into the arms and out again}}.

Star formation caused by density waves

The following hypotheses exist for star formation caused by density waves:
  • As gas clouds move into the density wave, the local mass density increases. Since the criteria for cloud collapse (the Jeans instability) depends on density, a higher density makes it more likely for clouds to collapse and form stars.
  • As the compression wave goes through, it triggers star formation on the leading edge of the spiral arms.
  • As clouds get swept up by the spiral arms, they collide with one another and drive shock waves through the gas, which in turn causes the gas to collapse and form stars.
File:NGC 3810 (captured by the Hubble Space Telescope).jpg|thumb|The bright galaxy (NGC 3810]] demonstrates classical spiral structure in this very detailed image from Hubble. Credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA.)

More young stars in spiral arms

The arms appear brighter because there are more young stars (hence more massive, bright stars). These massive, bright stars also die out quickly, which would leave just the darker background stellar distribution behind the waves, hence making the waves visible.While stars, therefore, do not remain forever in the position that we now see them in, they also do not follow the arms. The arms simply appear to pass through the stars as the stars travel in their orbits.

Gravitationally aligned orbits

Charles Francis and Erik Anderson showed from observations of motions of over 20,000 local stars (within 300 parsecs) that stars do move along spiral arms, and described how mutual gravity between stars causes orbits to align on logarithmic spirals. When the theory is applied to gas, collisions between gas clouds generate the molecular clouds in which new stars form, and evolution towards grand-design bisymmetric spirals is explained.JOURNAL, 10.1098/rspa.2009.0036, Galactic spiral structure, 2009, Francis, C., Anderson, E., Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 465, 2111, 3425–3446, 0901.3503, 2009RSPSA.465.3425F,

Distribution of stars in spirals

missing image!
- Similar stellar distribution in spiral galaxies.jpeg -
The similar distribution of stars in Spirals|upright 1.9
The stars in spirals are distributed in thin disks radial with intensity profiles such thatF. Shirley Patterson (1940), The Luminosity Gradient of Messier 33Gerard de Vaucouleurs (1957), Studies of the Magellanic Clouds. III. Surface brightness, colors and integrated magnitudes of the Clouds.JOURNAL, Freeman, K. C., On the Disks of Spiral and so Galaxies, Astrophysical Journal, 160, 811, 1970, 1970ApJ...160..811F, 10.1086/150474,
I(R) = I_0 e^{-R/h}with h being the disk scale-length; I_0 is the central value; it is useful to define: R_{opt}= 3.2 h as the size of the stellar disk, whose luminosity isL_{tot} = 2pi I_0 h^2.The spiral galaxies light profiles, in terms of the coordinate R/h, do not depend on galaxy luminosity.

Spiral nebula

"Spiral nebula" was a term used to describe galaxies with a visible spiral structure, such as the Whirlpool Galaxy, before it was understood that these objects existed outside our Milky Way galaxy. The question of whether such objects were separate galaxies independent of the Milky Way, or a type of nebula existing within our own galaxy, was the subject of the Great Debate of 1920, between Heber Curtis of Lick Observatory and Harlow Shapley of Mt. Wilson Observatory. Beginning in 1923, Edwin HubbleWEB,weblink NASA - Hubble Views the Star That Changed the Universe, JOURNAL, May 1926, A spiral nebula as a stellar system: Messier 33, The Astrophysical Journal, 63, 236–274, 1926ApJ....63..236H, 10.1086/142976, Hubble, E. P., Edwin Hubble, observed Cepheid variables in several spiral nebulae, including the so-called "Andromeda Nebula", proving that they are, in fact, entire galaxies outside our own. The term "spiral nebula" has since fallen into disuse.

Milky Way

The Milky Way was once considered an ordinary spiral galaxy. Astronomers first began to suspect that the Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy in the 1960s.Gerard de Vaucouleurs (1964), Interpretation of velocity distribution of the inner regions of the GalaxyJOURNAL, 1996, On the spiral arm interpretation of COMPTEL 26Al map features, Space Science Reviews, 120, 315–316, 1996A&AS..120C.315C, Chen, W., Gehrels, N., Diehl, R., Hartmann, D., Their suspicions were confirmed by Spitzer Space Telescope observations in 2005,NEWS
, Maggie
, McKee
, Bar at Milky Way's heart revealed
, New Scientist
, August 16, 2005
, 17 June 2009, which showed that the Milky Way's central bar is larger than was previously suspected.
File:PIA19341-MilkyWayGalaxy-SpiralArmsData-WISE-20150603.jpg|thumb|center|350px|Milky Way Galaxy Spiral Arms - based on WISE data.]]

Famous examples

{{more|List of spiral galaxies}}{{Colbegin|colwidth=30em}}
  • {{annotated link|Andromeda Galaxy}}
  • {{annotated link|Milky Way}}
  • {{annotated link|Pinwheel Galaxy}}
  • {{annotated link|Sunflower Galaxy}}
  • {{annotated link|Triangulum Galaxy}}
  • {{annotated link|Whirlpool Galaxy}}

See also

  • {{annotated link|Active galactic nucleus}}
  • {{annotated link|Disc galaxy}}
  • {{annotated link|Dwarf galaxy}}
  • {{annotated link|Dwarf elliptical galaxy}}
  • {{annotated link|Dwarf spheroidal galaxy}}
  • {{annotated link|Flocculent spiral galaxy}}
  • {{annotated link|Galaxy color–magnitude diagram}}
  • {{annotated link|Grand design spiral galaxy}}
  • {{annotated link|Intermediate spiral galaxy}}
  • {{annotated link|Lenticular galaxy}}
  • {{annotated link|Ring galaxy}}
  • {{annotated link|Starburst galaxy}}
  • {{annotated link|Seyfert galaxy}}
  • {{annotated link|Galactic coordinate system}}
  • {{annotated link|Galactic corona}}
  • {{annotated link|Galaxy formation and evolution}}
  • {{annotated link|Observable universeLarge-scale structure|Groups and clusters of galaxies}}
  • {{annotated link|List of spiral galaxies}}
  • {{annotated link|List of galaxies}}
  • {{annotated link|List of nearest galaxies}}
  • {{annotated link|Tully–Fisher relation}}
  • {{annotated link|Galaxy rotation curve}}
  • {{annotated link|Timeline of knowledge about galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and large-scale structure}}
  • {{annotated link|Stellar halo}}



External links

{{Commons category|Spiral galaxies}} {{Galaxy}}{{Milky Way}}{{Authority control}}

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