Galaxy rotation curve

The rotation curve of a disc galaxy (also called a velocity curve) is a plot of the orbital speeds of visible stars or gas in that galaxy versus their radial distance from that galaxy's centre. It is typically rendered graphically as a plot, and the data observed from each side of a spiral galaxy are generally asymmetric, so that data from each side are averaged to create the curve. A significant discrepancy exists between the experimental curves observed, and a curve derived from theory. The theory of dark matter is currently postulated to account for the variance.[3]

Rotation curve of spiral galaxy Messier 33 (Triangulum)
Rotation curve of spiral galaxy Messier 33 (yellow and blue points with error bars), and a predicted one from distribution of the visible matter (gray line). The discrepancy between the two curves can be accounted for by adding a dark matter halo surrounding the galaxy.[1][2]
Left: A simulated galaxy without dark matter. Right: Galaxy with a flat rotation curve that would be expected under the presence of dark matter.


The rotation curve of a disc galaxy (also called a velocity curve) is a plot of the orbital speeds of visible stars or gas in that galaxy versus their radial distance from that galaxy's centre. The rotation curves of spiral galaxies are asymmetric, so the observational data from each side of a galaxy are generally averaged. Rotation curve asymmetry appears to be normal rather than exceptional.[4]

The rotational/orbital speeds of galaxies/stars do not follow the rules found in other orbital systems such as stars/planets and planets/moons that have most of their mass at the centre. Stars revolve around their galaxy's centre at equal or increasing speed over a large range of distances. In contrast, the orbital velocities of planets in planetary systems and moons orbiting planets decline with distance. In the latter cases, this reflects the mass distributions within those systems. The mass estimations for galaxies based on the light they emit are far too low to explain the velocity observations.[5]

The galaxy rotation problem is the discrepancy between observed galaxy rotation curves and the theoretical prediction, assuming a centrally dominated mass associated with the observed luminous material. When mass profiles of galaxies are calculated from the distribution of stars in spirals and mass-to-light ratios in the stellar disks, they do not match with the masses derived from the observed rotation curves and the law of gravity. A solution to this conundrum is to hypothesize the existence of dark matter and to assume its distribution from the galaxy's center out to its halo.

Though dark matter is by far the most accepted explanation of the rotation problem, other proposals have been offered with varying degrees of success. Of the possible alternatives, one the most notable is Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND), which involves modifying the laws of gravity.[6]


In 1932, Jan Hendrik Oort became the first to report that measurements of the stars in the Solar neighborhood indicated that they moved faster than expected when a mass distribution based upon visible matter was assumed, but these measurements were later determined to be essentially erroneous.[7] In 1939, Horace Babcock reported in his PhD thesis measurements of the rotation curve for Andromeda which suggested that the mass-to-luminosity ratio increases radially.[8] He attributed that to either the absorption of light within the galaxy or to modified dynamics in the outer portions of the spiral and not to any form of missing matter. Babcock's measurements turned out to disagree substantially with those found later, and the first measurement of an extended rotation curve in good agreement with modern data was published in 1957 by Henk van de Hulst and collaborators, who studied M31 with the newly commissioned Dwingeloo 25 meter telescope.[9] A companion paper by Maarten Schmidt showed that this rotation curve could be fit by a flattened mass distribution more extensive than the light.[10] In 1959, Louise Volders used the same telescope to demonstrate that the spiral galaxy M33 also does not spin as expected according to Keplerian dynamics.[11]

Reporting on NGC 3115, Jan Oort wrote that "the distribution of mass in the system appears to bear almost no relation to that of light... one finds the ratio of mass to light in the outer parts of NGC 3115 to be about 250".[12] On page 302-303 of his journal article, he wrote that "The strongly condensed luminous system appears imbedded in a large and more or less homogeneous mass of great density" and although he went on to speculate that this mass may be either extremely faint dwarf stars or interstellar gas and dust, he had clearly detected the dark matter halo of this galaxy.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Vera Rubin, an astronomer at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, worked with a new sensitive spectrograph that could measure the velocity curve of edge-on spiral galaxies to a greater degree of accuracy than had ever before been achieved.[13] Together with fellow staff-member Kent Ford, Rubin announced at a 1975 meeting of the American Astronomical Society the discovery that most stars in spiral galaxies orbit at roughly the same speed,[14] and that this implied that galaxy masses grow approximately linearly with radius well beyond the location of most of the stars (the galactic bulge). Rubin presented her results in an influential paper in 1980.[15] These results suggested that either Newtonian gravity does not apply universally or that, conservatively, upwards of 50% of the mass of galaxies was contained in the relatively dark galactic halo. Although initially met with skepticism, Rubin's results have been confirmed over the subsequent decades.[16]

If Newtonian mechanics is assumed to be correct, it would follow that most of the mass of the galaxy had to be in the galactic bulge near the center and that the stars and gas in the disk portion should orbit the center at decreasing velocities with radial distance from the galactic center (the dashed line in Fig. 1).

Observations of the rotation curve of spirals, however, do not bear this out. Rather, the curves do not decrease in the expected inverse square root relationship but are "flat", i.e. outside of the central bulge the speed is nearly a constant (the solid line in Fig. 1). It is also observed that galaxies with a uniform distribution of luminous matter have a rotation curve that rises from the center to the edge, and most low-surface-brightness galaxies (LSB galaxies) have the same anomalous rotation curve.

The rotation curves might be explained by hypothesizing the existence of a substantial amount of matter permeating the galaxy outside of the central bulge that is not emitting light in the mass-to-light ratio of the central bulge. The material responsible for the extra mass was dubbed "dark matter", the existence of which was first posited in the 1930s by Jan Oort in his measurements of the Oort constants and Fritz Zwicky in his studies of the masses of galaxy clusters. The existence of non-baryonic cold dark matter (CDM) is today a major feature of the Lambda-CDM model that describes the cosmology of the universe.

Halo density profiles

In order to accommodate a flat rotation curve, a density profile for a galaxy and its environs must be different than one that is centrally concentrated. Newton's version of Kepler's Third Law implies that the spherically symmetric, radial density profile ρ(r) is:

where v(r) is the radial orbital velocity profile and G is the gravitational constant. This profile closely matches the expectations of a singular isothermal sphere profile where if v(r) is approximately constant then the density ρr−2 to some inner "core radius" where the density is then assumed constant. Observations do not comport with such a simple profile, as reported by Navarro, Frenk, and White in a seminal 1996 paper.[17]

The authors then remarked, that a "gently changing logarithmic slope" for a density profile function could also accommodate approximately flat rotation curves over large scales. They found the famous Navarro–Frenk–White profile which is consistent both with N-body simulations and observations given by

where the central density, ρ0, and the scale radius, Rs, are parameters that vary from halo to halo.[18] Because the slope of the density profile diverges at the center, other alternative profiles have been proposed, for example, the Einasto profile which has exhibited better agreement with certain dark matter halo simulations.[19][20]

Observations of orbit velocities in spiral galaxies suggest a mass structure according to:

with Φ the galaxy gravitational potential.

Since observations of galaxy rotation do not match the distribution expected from application of Kepler's laws, they do not match the distribution of luminous matter.[15] This implies that spiral galaxies contain large amounts of dark matter or, in alternative, the existence of exotic physics in action on galactic scales. The additional invisible component becomes progressively more conspicuous in each galaxy at outer radii and among galaxies in the less luminous ones.

Cosmology tells us that about 26% of the mass of the Universe is composed of dark matter, a hypothetical type of matter which does not emit or interact with electromagnetic radiation. Dark matter dominates the gravitational potential of galaxies and cluster of galaxies. Galaxies are baryonic condensations of stars and gas (namely H and He) that lie at the centers of much larger dark haloes of dark matter, affected by a gravitational instability caused by primordial density fluctuations.

The main goal has become to understand the nature and the history of these ubiquitous dark haloes by investigating the properties of the galaxies they contain (i.e. their luminosities, kinematics, sizes, and morphologies). The measurement of the kinematics (their positions, velocities and accelerations) of the observable stars and gas has become a tool to investigate the nature of dark matter, as to its content and distribution relative to that of the various baryonic components of those galaxies.

Further investigations

Comparison of rotating disc galaxies in the distant Universe and the present day
Comparison of rotating disc galaxies in the distant Universe and the present day.[21]

The rotational dynamics of galaxies are well characterized by their position on the Tully–Fisher relation, which shows that for spiral galaxies the rotational velocity is uniquely related to its total luminosity. A consistent way to predict the rotational velocity of a spiral galaxy is to measure its bolometric luminosity and then read its rotation rate from its location on the Tully–Fisher diagram. Conversely, knowing the rotational velocity of a spiral galaxy gives its luminosity. Thus the magnitude of the galaxy rotation is related to the galaxy's visible mass.[22]

While precise fitting of the bulge, disk, and halo density profiles is a rather complicated process, it is straightforward to model the observables of rotating galaxies through this relationship.[23] So, while state-of-the-art cosmological and galaxy formation simulations of dark matter with normal baryonic matter included can be matched to galaxy observations, there is not yet any straightforward explanation as to why the observed scaling relationship exists.[24][25] Additionally, detailed investigations of the rotation curves of low-surface-brightness galaxies (LSB galaxies) in the 1990s[26] and of their position on the Tully–Fisher relation[27] showed that LSB galaxies had to have dark matter haloes that are more extended and less dense than those of HSB galaxies and thus surface brightness is related to the halo properties. Such dark-matter-dominated dwarf galaxies may hold the key to solving the dwarf galaxy problem of structure formation.

Very importantly, the analysis of the inner parts of low and high surface brightness galaxies showed that the shape of the rotation curves in the centre of dark-matter dominated systems indicates a profile different from the NFW spatial mass distribution profile.[28][29] This so-called cuspy halo problem is a persistent problem for the standard cold dark matter theory. Simulations involving the feedback of stellar energy into the interstellar medium in order to alter the predicted dark matter distribution in the innermost regions of galaxies are frequently invoked in this context.[30][31]

See also


  1. ^ Corbelli, E.; Salucci, P. (2000). "The extended rotation curve and the dark matter halo of M33". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 311 (2): 441–447. arXiv:astro-ph/9909252. Bibcode:2000MNRAS.311..441C. doi:10.1046/j.1365-8711.2000.03075.x.
  2. ^ The explanation of the mass discrepancy in spiral galaxies by means of massive and extensive dark component was first put forward by A. Bosma in a PhD dissertation, see
    Bosma, A. (1978). The Distribution and Kinematics of Neutral Hydrogen in Spiral Galaxies of Various Morphological Types (PhD). Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. Retrieved December 30, 2016 – via NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database.
    See also
    Rubin, V.; Thonnard, N.; Ford, W. K. Jr. (1980). "Rotational Properties of 21 Sc Galaxies With a Large Range of Luminosities and Radii from NGC 4605 (R=4kpc) to UGC 2885 (R=122kpc)". The Astrophysical Journal. 238: 471–487. Bibcode:1980ApJ...238..471R. doi:10.1086/158003.
    Begeman, K. G.; Broeils, A. H.; Sanders, R.H. (1991). "Extended Rotation Curves of Spiral Galaxies: Dark Haloes and Modified Dynamics". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 249 (3): 523–537. Bibcode:1991MNRAS.249..523B. doi:10.1093/mnras/249.3.523.
  3. ^ Hammond, Richard (May 1, 2008). The Unknown Universe: The Origin of the Universe, Quantum Gravity, Wormholes, and Other Things Science Still Can't Explain. Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press.
  4. ^ Jog, C. J. (2002). "Large-scale asymmetry of rotation curves in lopsided spiral galaxies" (PDF). Astronomy and Astrophysics. 391 (2): 471–479. arXiv:astro-ph/0207055. Bibcode:2002A&A...391..471J. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:20020832.
  5. ^ Bosma, A. (1978). The Distribution and Kinematics of Neutral Hydrogen in Spiral Galaxies of Various Morphological Types (PhD). Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. Retrieved December 30, 2016 – via NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database.
  6. ^ For an extensive discussion of the data and its fit to MOND see Milgrom, M. (2007). "The MOND Paradigm". arXiv:0801.3133 [astro-ph].
  7. ^ Oxford Dictionary of Scientists. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1999. ISBN 0 19 280086 8. Retrieved 2 June 2014.
  8. ^ Babcock, H. W. (1939). "The rotation of the Andromeda Nebula". Lick Observatory Bulletin. 19: 41–51. Bibcode:1939LicOB..19...41B. doi:10.5479/ADS/bib/1939LicOB.19.41B.
  9. ^ Van de Hulst, H.C; et al. (1957). "Rotation and density distribution of the Andromeda nebula derived from observations of the 21-cm line". Bulletin of the Astronomical Institutes of the Netherlands. 14: 1. Bibcode:1957BAN....14....1V.
  10. ^ Schmidt, M (1957). "Rotation and density distribution of the Andromeda nebula derived from observations of the 21-cm line". Bulletin of the Astronomical Institutes of the Netherlands. 14: 17. Bibcode:1957BAN....14...17S.
  11. ^ Volders, L. (1959). "Neutral hydrogen in M 33 and M 101". Bulletin of the Astronomical Institutes of the Netherlands. 14 (492): 323. Bibcode:1959BAN....14..323V.
  12. ^ Oort, J.H. (1940), Some Problems Concerning the Structure and Dynamics of the Galactic System and the Elliptical Nebulae NGC 3115 and 4494
  13. ^ Rubin, V.; Ford, W. K. Jr. (1970). "Rotation of the Andromeda Nebula from a Spectroscopic Survey of Emission Regions". The Astrophysical Journal. 159: 379. Bibcode:1970ApJ...159..379R. doi:10.1086/150317.
  14. ^ Rubin, V.C.; Thonnard, N.; Ford, W.K. Jr. (1978). "Extended rotation curves of high-luminosity spiral galaxies. IV - Systematic dynamical properties, SA through SC". The Astrophysical Journal Letters. 225: L107–L111. Bibcode:1978ApJ...225L.107R. doi:10.1086/182804.
  15. ^ a b Rubin, V.; Thonnard, N.; Ford, W. K. Jr. (1980). "Rotational Properties of 21 Sc Galaxies with a Large Range of Luminosities and Radii from NGC 4605 (R=4kpc) to UGC 2885 (R=122kpc)". The Astrophysical Journal. 238: 471. Bibcode:1980ApJ...238..471R. doi:10.1086/158003.
  16. ^ Persic, M.; Salucci, P.; Stel, F. (1996). "The universal rotation curve of spiral galaxies - I. The dark matter connection". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 281 (1): 27–47. arXiv:astro-ph/9506004. Bibcode:1996MNRAS.281...27P. doi:10.1093/mnras/278.1.27.
  17. ^ Navarro, J. F.; Frenk, C. S.; White, S. D. M. (1996). "The Structure of Cold Dark Matter Halos". The Astrophysical Journal. 463: 563. arXiv:astro-ph/9508025. Bibcode:1996ApJ...462..563N. doi:10.1086/177173.
  18. ^ Carroll; Ostlie (2017). An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics. Cambridge University Press. p. 918.
  19. ^ Merritt, D.; Graham, A.; Moore, B.; Diemand, J.; Terzić, B. (2006). "Empirical Models for Dark Matter Halos. I. Nonparametric Construction of Density Profiles and Comparison with Parametric Models". The Astronomical Journal. 132 (6): 2685–2700. arXiv:astro-ph/0509417. Bibcode:2006AJ....132.2685M. doi:10.1086/508988.
  20. ^ Merritt, D.; Navarro, J. F.; Ludlow, A.; Jenkins, A. (2005). "A Universal Density Profile for Dark and Luminous Matter?". The Astrophysical Journal. 624 (2): L85–L88. arXiv:astro-ph/0502515. Bibcode:2005ApJ...624L..85M. doi:10.1086/430636.
  21. ^ "Dark Matter Less Influential in Galaxies in Early Universe - VLT observations of distant galaxies suggest they were dominated by normal matter". Retrieved 16 March 2017.
  22. ^ Yegorova, I. A.; Salucci, P. (2007). "The radial Tully-Fisher relation for spiral galaxies - I". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 377 (2): 507–515. arXiv:astro-ph/0612434. Bibcode:2007MNRAS.377..507Y. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2007.11637.x.
  23. ^ Dorminey, Bruce (30 Dec 2010). "Reliance on Indirect Evidence Fuels Dark Matter Doubts". Scientific American.
  24. ^ Weinberg, David H.; et, al. (2008). "Baryon Dynamics, Dark Matter Substructure, and Galaxies". The Astrophysical Journal. 678 (1): 6–21. arXiv:astro-ph/0604393. Bibcode:2008ApJ...678....6W. doi:10.1086/524646.
  25. ^ Duffy, Alan R.; al., et (2010). "Impact of baryon physics on dark matter structures: a detailed simulation study of halo density profiles". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 405 (4): 2161–2178. arXiv:1001.3447. Bibcode:2010MNRAS.405.2161D. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2010.16613.x.
  26. ^ de Blok, W. J. G.; McGaugh, S. (1997). "The dark and visible matter content of low surface brightness disc galaxies". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 290 (3): 533–552. arXiv:astro-ph/9704274. Bibcode:1997MNRAS.290..533D. doi:10.1093/mnras/290.3.533.
  27. ^ Zwaan, M. A.; van der Hulst, J. M.; de Blok, W. J. G.; McGaugh, S. S. (1995). "The Tully-Fisher relation for low surface brightness galaxies: implications for galaxy evolution". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 273: L35–L38. arXiv:astro-ph/9501102. Bibcode:1995MNRAS.273L..35Z. doi:10.1093/mnras/273.1.l35.
  28. ^ Gentile, G.; Salucci, P.; Klein, U.; Vergani, D.; Kalberla, P. (2004). "The cored distribution of dark matter in spiral galaxies". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 351 (3): 903–922. arXiv:astro-ph/0403154. Bibcode:2004MNRAS.351..903G. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2004.07836.x.
  29. ^ de Blok, W. J. G.; Bosma, A. (2002). "High-resolution rotation curves of low surface brightness galaxies" (PDF). Astronomy & Astrophysics. 385 (3): 816–846. arXiv:astro-ph/0201276. Bibcode:2002A&A...385..816D. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:20020080.
  30. ^ Salucci, P.; De Laurentis, M. (2012). "Dark Matter in galaxies: Leads to its Nature" (PDF). Proceedings of Science (DSU 2012): 12. arXiv:1302.2268. Bibcode:2013arXiv1302.2268S.
  31. ^ de Blok, W. J. G. (2010). "The Core-Cusp Problem". Advances in Astronomy. 2010: 789293. arXiv:0910.3538. Bibcode:2010AdAst2010E...5D. doi:10.1155/2010/789293.

Further reading


  • V. Rubin, V.; Ford Jr., W. K. (1970). "Rotation of the Andromeda Nebula from a Spectroscopic Survey of Emission Regions". Astrophysical Journal. 159: 379. Bibcode:1970ApJ...159..379R. doi:10.1086/150317. This was the first detailed study of orbital rotation in galaxies.
  • V. Rubin; N. Thonnard; W. K. Ford Jr (1980). "UGC". Astrophysical Journal. 238: 471. Bibcode:1980ApJ...238..471R. doi:10.1086/158003. Observations of a set of spiral galaxies gave evidence that orbital velocities of stars in galaxies were unexpectedly high at large distances from the nucleus. This paper was influential in convincing astronomers that most of the matter in the universe is dark, and much of it is clumped about galaxies.
  • Galactic Astronomy, Dmitri Mihalas and Paul McRae.W. H. Freeman 1968.

External links

Alternatives to general relativity

Alternatives to general relativity are physical theories that attempt to describe the phenomenon of gravitation in competition to Einstein's theory of general relativity.

There have been many different attempts at constructing an ideal theory of gravity. These attempts can be split into four broad categories:

Straightforward alternatives to general relativity (GR), such as the Cartan, Brans–Dicke and Rosen bimetric theories.

Those that attempt to construct a quantized gravity theory such as loop quantum gravity.

Those that attempt to unify gravity and other forces such as Kaluza–Klein.

Those that attempt to do several at once, such as M-theory.This article deals only with straightforward alternatives to GR. For quantized gravity theories, see the article quantum gravity. For the unification of gravity and other forces, see the article classical unified field theories. For those theories that attempt to do several at once, see the article theory of everything.

Coma Filament

Coma Filament is a galaxy filament. The filament contains the Coma Supercluster of galaxies and forms a part of the CfA2 Great Wall.

Dark matter

Dark matter is a hypothetical form of matter that is thought to account for approximately 85% of the matter in the universe, and about a quarter of its total energy density. The majority of dark matter is thought to be non-baryonic in nature, possibly being composed of some as-yet undiscovered subatomic particles. Its presence is implied in a variety of astrophysical observations, including gravitational effects that cannot be explained unless more matter is present than can be seen. For this reason, most experts think dark matter to be ubiquitous in the universe and to have had a strong influence on its structure and evolution. Dark matter is called dark because it does not appear to interact with observable electromagnetic radiation, such as light, and is thus invisible to the entire electromagnetic spectrum, making it extremely difficult to detect using usual astronomical equipment.The primary evidence for dark matter is that calculations show that many galaxies would fly apart instead of rotating, or would not have formed or move as they do, if they did not contain a large amount of unseen matter. Other lines of evidence include observations in gravitational lensing, from the cosmic microwave background, from astronomical observations of the observable universe's current structure, from the formation and evolution of galaxies, from mass location during galactic collisions, and from the motion of galaxies within galaxy clusters. In the standard Lambda-CDM model of cosmology, the total mass–energy of the universe contains 5% ordinary matter and energy, 27% dark matter and 68% of an unknown form of energy known as dark energy. Thus, dark matter constitutes 85% of total mass, while dark energy plus dark matter constitute 95% of total mass–energy content.Because dark matter has not yet been observed directly, if it exists, it must barely interact with ordinary baryonic matter and radiation, except through gravity. The primary candidate for dark matter is some new kind of elementary particle that has not yet been discovered, in particular, weakly-interacting massive particles (WIMPs), or gravitationally-interacting massive particles (GIMPs). Many experiments to directly detect and study dark matter particles are being actively undertaken, but none has yet succeeded. Dark matter is classified as cold, warm, or hot according to its velocity (more precisely, its free streaming length). Current models favor a cold dark matter scenario, in which structures emerge by gradual accumulation of particles.

Although the existence of dark matter is generally accepted by the scientific community, some astrophysicists, intrigued by certain observations that do not fit the dark matter theory, argue for various modifications of the standard laws of general relativity, such as modified Newtonian dynamics, tensor–vector–scalar gravity, or entropic gravity. These models attempt to account for all observations without invoking supplemental non-baryonic matter.

Dark matter halo

A dark matter halo is a theoretical component of a galaxy that envelops the galactic disc and extends well beyond the edge of the visible galaxy. The halo's mass dominates the total mass. Thought to consist of dark matter, halos have not been observed directly. Their existence is inferred through their effects on the motions of stars and gas in galaxies. Dark matter halos play a key role in current models of galaxy formation and evolution. The dark matter halo is not fully explained by the presence of massive compact halo objects (MACHOs).

Fixed stars

The fixed stars (Latin: stellae fixae) comprise the background of astronomical objects that appear to not move relative to each other in the night sky compared to the foreground of Solar System objects that do. Generally, the fixed stars are taken to include all stars other than the Sun. Nebulae and other deep-sky objects may also be counted among the fixed stars.

Exact delimitation of the term is complicated by the fact that no celestial objects are in fact fixed with respect to each other. Nonetheless, extrasolar objects move so slowly in the sky that the change in their relative positions is nearly imperceptible on typical human timescales, except to careful examination, and thus can be considered "fixed" for many purposes. Furthermore, distant stars and galaxies move even

slower in the sky than comparatively closer ones.

People in many cultures have imagined that the stars form pictures in the sky called constellations. In Ancient Greek astronomy, the fixed stars were believed to exist on a giant celestial sphere, or firmament, that revolves daily around Earth.

Galaxy formation and evolution

The study of galaxy formation and evolution is concerned with the processes that formed a heterogeneous universe from a homogeneous beginning, the formation of the first galaxies, the way galaxies change over time, and the processes that have generated the variety of structures observed in nearby galaxies. Galaxy formation is hypothesized to occur from structure formation theories, as a result of tiny quantum fluctuations in the aftermath of the Big Bang. The simplest model in general agreement with observed phenomena is the Lambda-CDM model—that is, that clustering and merging allows galaxies to accumulate mass, determining both their shape and structure.

Index of physics articles (G)

The index of physics articles is split into multiple pages due to its size.

To navigate by individual letter use the table of contents below.

Long-slit spectroscopy

In astronomy, long-slit spectroscopy involves observing an elongated celestial object (such as a nebula or along the major axis of a disc galaxy at high inclination) through an elongated slit aperture, and refracting this light with a prism or diffraction grating. This type of spectrograph causes the Doppler shift-induced frequency distribution of the collected light to manifest as a spatial distribution through differential refraction, revealing the amplitude of the rotation curve.

Lynx–Ursa Major Filament

Lynx–Ursa Major Filament (LUM Filament) is a galaxy filament.The filament is connected to and separate from the Lynx–Ursa Major Supercluster.


In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be touched are ultimately composed of atoms, which are made up of interacting subatomic particles, and in everyday as well as scientific usage, "matter" generally includes atoms and anything made up of them, and any particles (or combination of particles) that act as if they have both rest mass and volume. However it does not include massless particles such as photons, or other energy phenomena or waves such as light or sound. Matter exists in various states (also known as phases). These include classical everyday phases such as solid, liquid, and gas – for example water exists as ice, liquid water, and gaseous steam – but other states are possible, including plasma, Bose–Einstein condensates, fermionic condensates, and quark–gluon plasma.Usually atoms can be imagined as a nucleus of protons and neutrons, and a surrounding "cloud" of orbiting electrons which "take up space". However this is only somewhat correct, because subatomic particles and their properties are governed by their quantum nature, which means they do not act as everyday objects appear to act – they can act like waves as well as particles and they do not have well-defined sizes or positions. In the Standard Model of particle physics, matter is not a fundamental concept because the elementary constituents of atoms are quantum entities which do not have an inherent "size" or "volume" in any everyday sense of the word. Due to the exclusion principle and other fundamental interactions, some "point particles" known as fermions (quarks, leptons), and many composites and atoms, are effectively forced to keep a distance from other particles under everyday conditions; this creates the property of matter which appears to us as matter taking up space.

For much of the history of the natural sciences people have contemplated the exact nature of matter. The idea that matter was built of discrete building blocks, the so-called particulate theory of matter, was first put forward by the Greek philosophers Leucippus (~490 BC) and Democritus (~470–380 BC).

Milky Way

The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains our Solar System. The name describes the galaxy's appearance from Earth: a hazy band of light seen in the night sky formed from stars that cannot be individually distinguished by the naked eye. The term Milky Way is a translation of the Latin via lactea, from the Greek γαλαξίας κύκλος (galaxías kýklos, "milky circle"). From Earth, the Milky Way appears as a band because its disk-shaped structure is viewed from within. Galileo Galilei first resolved the band of light into individual stars with his telescope in 1610. Until the early 1920s, most astronomers thought that the Milky Way contained all the stars in the Universe. Following the 1920 Great Debate between the astronomers Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, observations by Edwin Hubble showed that the Milky Way is just one of many galaxies.

The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy with a diameter between 150,000 and 200,000 light-years (ly). It is estimated to contain 100–400 billion stars and more than 100 billion planets. The Solar System is located at a radius of 26,490 (± 100) light-years from the Galactic Center, on the inner edge of the Orion Arm, one of the spiral-shaped concentrations of gas and dust. The stars in the innermost 10,000 light-years form a bulge and one or more bars that radiate from the bulge. The galactic center is an intense radio source known as Sagittarius A*, assumed to be a supermassive black hole of 4.100 (± 0.034) million solar masses.

Stars and gases at a wide range of distances from the Galactic Center orbit at approximately 220 kilometers per second. The constant rotation speed contradicts the laws of Keplerian dynamics and suggests that much (about 90%) of the mass of the Milky Way is invisible to telescopes, neither emitting nor absorbing electromagnetic radiation. This conjectural mass has been termed "dark matter". The rotational period is about 240 million years at the radius of the Sun. The Milky Way as a whole is moving at a velocity of approximately 600 km per second with respect to extragalactic frames of reference. The oldest stars in the Milky Way are nearly as old as the Universe itself and thus probably formed shortly after the Dark Ages of the Big Bang.The Milky Way has several satellite galaxies and is part of the Local Group of galaxies, which form part of the Virgo Supercluster, which is itself a component of the Laniakea Supercluster.

Mordehai Milgrom

Mordehai "Moti" Milgrom is an Israeli physicist and professor in the department of Particle Physics and Astrophysics at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel.

He received his first degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1966. Later he studied at the Weizmann Institute of Science and completed his doctorate in 1972. In 1981, he proposed Modified Newtonian dynamics (MOND) as an alternative to the dark matter and galaxy rotation curve problems. Milgrom suggests that Newton's Second Law be modified for very small accelerations. In the academic years 1980–1981 and 1985–1986 he was at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Before 1980 he worked primarily on high-energy astrophysics and became well-known for his kinematical model of SS 433.

Modified Newtonian dynamics is solely the invention of Mordehai (Moti) Milgrom. The idea of an acceleration-based modification of dynamics or gravity would have probably occurred to someone else sooner or later, but it is safe to say that in the early 1980s no one but Milgrom had considered such a possible modification as an alternative to astrophysical dark matter. It was a brilliant stroke of insight to realize that astronomical systems were not only characterized by large scale but also by low internal accelerations and this could account for the known systematics in the kinematics and photometry of galactic systems. However, the idea was hardly greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm.

Milgrom is married and has three daughters.

Perseus–Pegasus Filament

Perseus–Pegasus Filament is a galaxy filament containing the Perseus-Pisces Supercluster and stretching for roughly a billion light years (or over 300/h Mpc). Currently, it is considered to be one of the largest known structures in the universe. This filament is adjacent to the Pisces–Cetus Supercluster Complex.

Proper motion

Proper motion is the astronomical measure of the observed changes in the apparent places of stars or other celestial objects in the sky, as seen from the center of mass of the Solar System, compared to the abstract background of the more distant stars.The components for proper motion in the equatorial coordinate system (of a given epoch, often J2000.0) are given in the direction of right ascension (μα) and of declination (μδ). Their combined value is computed as the total proper motion (μ). It has dimensions of angle per time, typically arcseconds per year or milliarcseconds per year. Knowledge of the proper motion, distance, and radial velocity allows calculations of true stellar motion or velocity in space in respect to the Sun, and by coordinate transformation, the motion in respect to the Milky Way.

Proper motion is not entirely "proper" (that is, intrinsic to the celestial body or star), because it includes a component due to the motion of the Solar System itself.

Radio Galaxy Zoo

Radio Galaxy Zoo (RGZ) is an internet crowdsourced citizen science project that seeks to locate supermassive black holes in distant galaxies. It is hosted by the web portal Zooniverse. The scientific team want to identify black hole/jet pairs and associate them with the host galaxies. Using a large number of classifications provided by citizen scientists they hope to build a more complete picture of black holes at various stages and their origin. It was initiated in 2010 by Ray Norris in collaboration with the Zooniverse team, and was driven by the need to cross-identify the millions of extragalactic radio sources that will be discovered by the forthcoming Evolutionary Map of the Universe survey. RGZ is now led by scientists Julie Banfield and Ivy Wong. RGZ started operations on 17 December 2013.

Spiral galaxy

Spiral galaxies form a class of galaxy originally described by Edwin Hubble in his 1936 work The Realm of the Nebulae 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, 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.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. The most convincing evidence for the stars forming a bar in the galactic center comes from several recent surveys, including the Spitzer Space Telescope.Together with irregular galaxies, spiral galaxies make up approximately 60% of galaxies in today's universe. They are mostly found in low-density regions and are rare in the centers of galaxy clusters.

Ursa Major Filament

Ursa Major Filament is a galaxy filament. The filament is connected to the CfA Homunculus, a portion of the filament forms a portion of the "leg" of the Homunculus.

Active nuclei
Energetic galaxies
Low activity
See also

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