Gravity again weaving its Magic:


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Astronomers model, determine how disk galaxies evolve so smoothly
by Iowa State University


This illustration shows how two sample star orbits are scattered from nearly circular orbits by the gravity of massive clumps within galaxies. Researchers have found that millions of orbital changes, like those shown here, smooth the overall light profile of galaxy disks. The blue star is scattered several times. The orange star is captured by the gravity of a clump and moves around it. A typical, relatively smooth spiral galaxy (UGC 12224) is shown in the background. Credit: Jian Wu. Galaxy image from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey
Computer simulations are showing astrophysicists how massive clumps of gas within galaxies scatter some stars from their orbits, eventually creating the smooth, exponential fade in the brightness of many galaxy disks.

Researchers from Iowa State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and IBM Research have advanced studies they started nearly 10 years ago. They originally focused on how massive clumps in young galaxies affect star orbits and create galaxy disks featuring bright centers fading to dark edges.

(As Curtis Struck, an Iowa State professor of physics and astronomy, wrote in a 2013 research summary: "In galaxy disks, the scars of a rough childhood, and adolescent blemishes, all smooth away with time.")

Now, the group has co-authored a new paper that says their ideas about the formation of exponential disks apply to more than young galaxies. It's also a process that is robust and universal in all kinds of galaxies. The exponential disks, after all, are common in spiral galaxies, dwarf elliptical galaxies and some irregular galaxies.

How can astrophysicists explain that?

By using realistic models to track star scattering within galaxies, "We feel we have a much deeper understanding of the physical processes that resolve this almost-50-year-old key problem," Struck said.

Gravitational impulses from massive clumps alter the orbits of stars, the researchers found. As a result, the overall star distribution of the disk changes, and the exponential brightness profile is a reflection of that new stellar distribution.

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the paper:

Stellar scattering and the formation of exponential discs in self-gravitating systems:

We show, using the N-body code GADGET-2, that stellar scattering by massive clumps can produce exponential discs, and the effectiveness of the process depends on the mass of scattering centres, as well as the stability of the galactic disc. Heavy, dense scattering centres in a less stable disc generate an exponential profile quickly, with a timescale shorter than 1 Gyr. The profile evolution due to scattering can make a near-exponential disc under various initial stellar distributions. This result supports analytic theories that predict the scattering processes always favour the zero entropy gradient solution to the Jeans/Poisson equations, whose profile is a near-exponential. Profile changes are accompanied by disc thickening, and a power-law increase in stellar velocity dispersion in both vertical and radial directions is also observed through the evolution. Close encounters between stars and clumps can produce abrupt changes in stellar orbits and shift stars radially. These events can make trajectories more eccentric, but many leave eccentricities little changed. On average, orbital eccentricities of stars increase moderately with time.