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Differential rotation would appear to explain why so much of the material in the disk of the Milky Way is concentrated into elongated features that resemble spiral arms . No matter what the original distribution of the material might be, the differential rotation of the Galaxy can stretch it out into spiral features. [link] shows the development of spiral arms from two irregular blobs of interstellar matter. Notice that as the portions of the blobs closest to the galactic center move faster, those farther out trail behind.

Simplified model for the formation of spiral arms.

Simplified Model for the Formation of Spiral Arms. At left, the illustration begins with two irregular blue blobs, one above the other, with a short curved arrow at top pointing to the right indicating the direction of rotation. The next frame, with a longer curved arrow, shows how parts of the initial blobs have moved toward each other, but the parts further away have moved less, giving the appearance of two small comets. In the next frame, the curved arrow covers about 180O, and the blobs are now even more curved and elongated. In the final frame at right, the curved arrow covers 270O, and the classic spiral shape has emerged.
This sketch shows how spiral arms might form from irregular clouds of interstellar material stretched out by the different rotation rates throughout the Galaxy. The regions farthest from the galactic center take longer to complete their orbits and thus lag behind the inner regions. If this were the only mechanism for creating spiral arms, then over time the spiral arms would completely wind up and disappear. Since many galaxies have spiral arms, they must be long-lived, and there must be other processes at work to maintain them.

But this picture of spiral arms presents astronomers with an immediate problem. If that’s all there were to the story, differential rotation—over the roughly 13-billion-year history of the Galaxy—would have wound the Galaxy’s arms tighter and tighter until all semblance of spiral structure had disappeared. But did the Milky Way actually have spiral arms when it formed 13 billion years ago? And do spiral arms, once formed, last for that long a time?

With the advent of the Hubble Space Telescope, it has become possible to observe the structure of very distant galaxies and to see what they were like shortly after they began to form more than 13 billion years ago. What the observations show is that galaxies in their infancy had bright, clumpy star-forming regions, but no regular spiral structure.

Over the next few billion years, the galaxies began to “settle down.” The galaxies that were to become spirals lost their massive clumps and developed a central bulge. The turbulence in these galaxies decreased, rotation began to dominate the motions of the stars and gas, and stars began to form in a much quieter disk. Smaller star-forming clumps began to form fuzzy, not-very-distinct spiral arms. Bright, well-defined spiral arms began to appear only when the galaxies were about 3.6 billion years old. Initially, there were two well-defined arms. Multi-armed structures in galaxies like we see in the Milky Way appeared only when the universe was about 8 billion years old.

We will discuss the history of galaxies in more detail in The Evolution and Distribution of Galaxies . But, even from our brief discussion, you can get the sense that the spiral structures we now observe in mature galaxies have come along later in the full story of how things develop in the universe.

Scientists have used supercomputer calculations to model the formation and evolution of the arms. These calculations follow the motions of up to 100 million “star particles” to see whether gravitational forces can cause them to form spiral structure. What these calculations show is that giant molecular clouds (which we discussed in Between the Stars: Gas and Dust in Space ) have enough gravitational influence over their surroundings to initiate the formation of structures that look like spiral arms. These arms then become self-perpetuating and can survive for at least several billion years. The arms may change their brightness over time as star formation comes and goes, but they are not temporary features. The concentration of matter in the arms exerts sufficient gravitational force to keep the arms together over long periods of time.

Key concepts and summary

The gaseous distribution in the Galaxy’s disk has two main spiral arms that emerge from the ends of the central bar, along with several fainter arms and short spurs; the Sun is located in one of those spurs. Measurements show that the Galaxy does not rotate as a solid body, but instead its stars and gas follow differential rotation, such that the material closer to the galactic center completes its orbit more quickly. Observations show that galaxies like the Milky Way take several billion years after they began to form to develop spiral structure.

Questions & Answers

why the dark side of moon never face us? because moon dont rotate? why tho
Rishabh Reply
im in 8th standard and my school teach us nothing about astronomy but i want to be an astronomer so i study from youtube and apps like this but sometimes i get language problems
Rishabh
dark**
Glory
side**
Glory
The Moon does actually rotate. It takes 27 days for the Moon to make a full rotation. Because it takes it so long and the Earth is rotating around the sun, it seems like the Moon is pretty much standing still. That's called "synchronous rotation".
steveh259
I ment to say "The Earth is orbiting around the sun"
steveh259
Tidal Locked.....
Adam
***svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4442
Collins
thats cool
Gospel
ya gives you a look at how the moon orbits around us too and a perspective of how fast we are going. also gives the moon phases for the year! enjoy 😁
Collins
yes you are absolutely correct, it just like something like the milk of heaven
Subhasish
the far side of the moon is not the dark side of the moon.
Shawn
what phases of the moon occurs when spring tide?
Florence Reply
the moon has a 28 day cycle. you can download a moon calander or follow the pattern and make your own calendar. 1st full moon of the year 21/22nd Jan, its also a blood moon and a wolf moon. if this info helps at all. 😊
Collins
***svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4442
Collins
How to determine the velocity of light?
PARTHIB Reply
using this formula c=1/√absolute permeability×absolute permittivity of free space i.e. c=1/√8.854×10^-12×4π×10^-7~3×10^8ms^-1
Vidyashankar
what is mean by Big Bang
block Reply
What it means by Big Bang is how the world was made and came in to exist
Glory
The Big Bang Is The Best Explanation For What We See Around Us, And For The Origin Of The Universe, All Our Evidence Points To The Big Bang Theory..... And Was Proposed By A Belgian Priest.....
Adam
if the big bang theory is really true than i would like to know what exploded and where did it came from and where did the energy came from and where come from for the matter to expand into amd where did the organization come from and where did the information come from.........
Gospel
Some say that on the otherside of the singularity was a black hole. They say that at the other end of all black holes is another universe. Hence the multiverse. It's all theoretical at this point but less than a 100 years ago people believed that there was only 1 galaxy in the universe. So why
Rafael
should there be only 1 universe?
Rafael
universe.
Rafael
is astronomy a hard subject to learn because i want to be an astronomer
FNAF Reply
No it not it just takes time and effort to learn
Glory
if your already interested/observing, your already an astronomer ! The more you look and read the more you'll learn.
Collins
I want to become a scientist but my knowledge is very low. How I can improve my knowledge?
Wwe
any form of science courses, there's free crash course channel on you tube. I've learned alot from this channel. covers most topics, science: biology chemistry physics, astronomy, ranges to anatomy, history and many many more. it's a never ending subject!
Collins
suggest a channel as a example
Wwe
CrashCourse is the name of the channel and there is a picture of an apple. look through their play lists. They will have other related channels they follow also.
Collins
thank you so much
Wwe
your very welcome
Collins
Why are they so far away that their light takes hundreds of millions of years to reach us on earth?
LadyCatTM Reply
what is comets , astroids ,
Sumit Reply
comets are broken pieces of dust frozen debris Asteroids are big soiled pieces of Ice that burst into flames when it in to earth's atmosphere
Glory
hi, I am yamini, I am in class 8 but very much interested in astronomy and go to NASA, what are the subjects in which I can master and lead to NASA.
yamini Reply
Hello Yamini, Im Ken and I'm avery intrested in joining the NASA too. Is nice to meet you.
Ken
very*
Ken
nice to meet u ken
yamini
What I know about the subjects is that you have to be a master on science and math, also if you know about aviation is better too
Ken
I read that the Russian language is very important, is not a requirement but it's like an extra point!
Ken
yeah like physics, chemistry and maths, they are my most favorite.
yamini
than you can go free of cost
Arush
Yes, That's right!
Ken
how
yamini
Oh! Free of cost?
Ken
hello yamini nice to meet you
Burak
wow from NASA ur so lucky
FNAF
hello yamini nice to meet you
block
what is time
Abdul Reply
Time is relative
mrunal
pls elaborate
sakshi
the clear defination.I know that.
Abdul
In planet mars there the life exits or not and is there water there
Eshwarsa Reply
see till now nothing can be found as u know that the curiosity rover has struck in mars
Maya
It has been proven that there are water molecules on Mars but not enough that most lifeforms could thrive upon.
Ariana
There are huge amounts of water in the ice caps and under the surface. The surface and chemistry indicate that Mars had cosiderable amounts of water on its surface in the past.
Julius
what is your opinion about the theory of Vedas about modern physics..
Manish Reply
i think in some ways vedas are also correct but not everytime
Maya
I agree
sakshi
hmm even I agree
Samuel
Is there any patened theory about time relativitg in growth and development?
donot Reply
some astronomer's says that there is no alien exist but why search for extra terrestrial intelligence center is established
Eshwarsa Reply
No One Knows That For Absolute Fact, The Universe Is Too Huge To Have Any Type Of Idea About What Exist In The Far Reaches Of Our Universe.....
Adam
Check Out The Drake Equation.....
Adam
their should be aliens as like ours there would be another planet
Maya
which could have existed life on it
Maya
adam i want to ask a question
Maya
can kepler 1st law be applied on all the planets of the universe
Maya
hello, anyone home?
Denise
guys listen we cannot ever find aliens because our technology is not that great.we don't know whether they exist or no because our universe is very large . Just for an example;even if we spot out aliens we cannot reach there because lot of time must have been passed and before us reaching there
Samuel
what if their species or existence might get vanished our have been extinct!! getting my point
Samuel
sjskskfhjkkktewqqw and try?
Lanika Reply
what is this ?
Samuel
hi I am Samuel from India mumbai
Samuel
nice to meet you
Samuel
thats my question, what is this?
penzias and wilson's a discovery of the cosmic microwave background is a nice example of scientific serendipity-something that is found by chance but turns out to have a positive outcome
Jacqueline Reply
Practice Key Terms 2

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Source:  OpenStax, Astronomy. OpenStax CNX. Apr 12, 2017 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11992/1.13
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