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Astronomy

26.2 Types of Galaxies

Astronomy26.2 Types of Galaxies
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  1. Preface
  2. 1 Science and the Universe: A Brief Tour
    1. Introduction
    2. 1.1 The Nature of Astronomy
    3. 1.2 The Nature of Science
    4. 1.3 The Laws of Nature
    5. 1.4 Numbers in Astronomy
    6. 1.5 Consequences of Light Travel Time
    7. 1.6 A Tour of the Universe
    8. 1.7 The Universe on the Large Scale
    9. 1.8 The Universe of the Very Small
    10. 1.9 A Conclusion and a Beginning
    11. For Further Exploration
  3. 2 Observing the Sky: The Birth of Astronomy
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 2.1 The Sky Above
    3. 2.2 Ancient Astronomy
    4. 2.3 Astrology and Astronomy
    5. 2.4 The Birth of Modern Astronomy
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  4. 3 Orbits and Gravity
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 3.1 The Laws of Planetary Motion
    3. 3.2 Newton’s Great Synthesis
    4. 3.3 Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation
    5. 3.4 Orbits in the Solar System
    6. 3.5 Motions of Satellites and Spacecraft
    7. 3.6 Gravity with More Than Two Bodies
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  5. 4 Earth, Moon, and Sky
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 4.1 Earth and Sky
    3. 4.2 The Seasons
    4. 4.3 Keeping Time
    5. 4.4 The Calendar
    6. 4.5 Phases and Motions of the Moon
    7. 4.6 Ocean Tides and the Moon
    8. 4.7 Eclipses of the Sun and Moon
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. For Further Exploration
    12. Collaborative Group Activities
    13. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  6. 5 Radiation and Spectra
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 5.1 The Behavior of Light
    3. 5.2 The Electromagnetic Spectrum
    4. 5.3 Spectroscopy in Astronomy
    5. 5.4 The Structure of the Atom
    6. 5.5 Formation of Spectral Lines
    7. 5.6 The Doppler Effect
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  7. 6 Astronomical Instruments
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 6.1 Telescopes
    3. 6.2 Telescopes Today
    4. 6.3 Visible-Light Detectors and Instruments
    5. 6.4 Radio Telescopes
    6. 6.5 Observations outside Earth’s Atmosphere
    7. 6.6 The Future of Large Telescopes
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  8. 7 Other Worlds: An Introduction to the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 7.1 Overview of Our Planetary System
    3. 7.2 Composition and Structure of Planets
    4. 7.3 Dating Planetary Surfaces
    5. 7.4 Origin of the Solar System
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  9. 8 Earth as a Planet
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 8.1 The Global Perspective
    3. 8.2 Earth’s Crust
    4. 8.3 Earth’s Atmosphere
    5. 8.4 Life, Chemical Evolution, and Climate Change
    6. 8.5 Cosmic Influences on the Evolution of Earth
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  10. 9 Cratered Worlds
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 9.1 General Properties of the Moon
    3. 9.2 The Lunar Surface
    4. 9.3 Impact Craters
    5. 9.4 The Origin of the Moon
    6. 9.5 Mercury
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  11. 10 Earthlike Planets: Venus and Mars
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 10.1 The Nearest Planets: An Overview
    3. 10.2 The Geology of Venus
    4. 10.3 The Massive Atmosphere of Venus
    5. 10.4 The Geology of Mars
    6. 10.5 Water and Life on Mars
    7. 10.6 Divergent Planetary Evolution
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  12. 11 The Giant Planets
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 11.1 Exploring the Outer Planets
    3. 11.2 The Giant Planets
    4. 11.3 Atmospheres of the Giant Planets
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. For Further Exploration
    8. Collaborative Group Activities
    9. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  13. 12 Rings, Moons, and Pluto
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 12.1 Ring and Moon Systems Introduced
    3. 12.2 The Galilean Moons of Jupiter
    4. 12.3 Titan and Triton
    5. 12.4 Pluto and Charon
    6. 12.5 Planetary Rings
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  14. 13 Comets and Asteroids: Debris of the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 13.1 Asteroids
    3. 13.2 Asteroids and Planetary Defense
    4. 13.3 The “Long-Haired” Comets
    5. 13.4 The Origin and Fate of Comets and Related Objects
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  15. 14 Cosmic Samples and the Origin of the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 14.1 Meteors
    3. 14.2 Meteorites: Stones from Heaven
    4. 14.3 Formation of the Solar System
    5. 14.4 Comparison with Other Planetary Systems
    6. 14.5 Planetary Evolution
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  16. 15 The Sun: A Garden-Variety Star
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 15.1 The Structure and Composition of the Sun
    3. 15.2 The Solar Cycle
    4. 15.3 Solar Activity above the Photosphere
    5. 15.4 Space Weather
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  17. 16 The Sun: A Nuclear Powerhouse
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 16.1 Sources of Sunshine: Thermal and Gravitational Energy
    3. 16.2 Mass, Energy, and the Theory of Relativity
    4. 16.3 The Solar Interior: Theory
    5. 16.4 The Solar Interior: Observations
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  18. 17 Analyzing Starlight
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 17.1 The Brightness of Stars
    3. 17.2 Colors of Stars
    4. 17.3 The Spectra of Stars (and Brown Dwarfs)
    5. 17.4 Using Spectra to Measure Stellar Radius, Composition, and Motion
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  19. 18 The Stars: A Celestial Census
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 18.1 A Stellar Census
    3. 18.2 Measuring Stellar Masses
    4. 18.3 Diameters of Stars
    5. 18.4 The H–R Diagram
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  20. 19 Celestial Distances
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 19.1 Fundamental Units of Distance
    3. 19.2 Surveying the Stars
    4. 19.3 Variable Stars: One Key to Cosmic Distances
    5. 19.4 The H–R Diagram and Cosmic Distances
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  21. 20 Between the Stars: Gas and Dust in Space
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 20.1 The Interstellar Medium
    3. 20.2 Interstellar Gas
    4. 20.3 Cosmic Dust
    5. 20.4 Cosmic Rays
    6. 20.5 The Life Cycle of Cosmic Material
    7. 20.6 Interstellar Matter around the Sun
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  22. 21 The Birth of Stars and the Discovery of Planets outside the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 21.1 Star Formation
    3. 21.2 The H–R Diagram and the Study of Stellar Evolution
    4. 21.3 Evidence That Planets Form around Other Stars
    5. 21.4 Planets beyond the Solar System: Search and Discovery
    6. 21.5 Exoplanets Everywhere: What We Are Learning
    7. 21.6 New Perspectives on Planet Formation
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  23. 22 Stars from Adolescence to Old Age
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 22.1 Evolution from the Main Sequence to Red Giants
    3. 22.2 Star Clusters
    4. 22.3 Checking Out the Theory
    5. 22.4 Further Evolution of Stars
    6. 22.5 The Evolution of More Massive Stars
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  24. 23 The Death of Stars
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 23.1 The Death of Low-Mass Stars
    3. 23.2 Evolution of Massive Stars: An Explosive Finish
    4. 23.3 Supernova Observations
    5. 23.4 Pulsars and the Discovery of Neutron Stars
    6. 23.5 The Evolution of Binary Star Systems
    7. 23.6 The Mystery of the Gamma-Ray Bursts
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  25. 24 Black Holes and Curved Spacetime
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 24.1 Introducing General Relativity
    3. 24.2 Spacetime and Gravity
    4. 24.3 Tests of General Relativity
    5. 24.4 Time in General Relativity
    6. 24.5 Black Holes
    7. 24.6 Evidence for Black Holes
    8. 24.7 Gravitational Wave Astronomy
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. For Further Exploration
    12. Collaborative Group Activities
    13. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  26. 25 The Milky Way Galaxy
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 25.1 The Architecture of the Galaxy
    3. 25.2 Spiral Structure
    4. 25.3 The Mass of the Galaxy
    5. 25.4 The Center of the Galaxy
    6. 25.5 Stellar Populations in the Galaxy
    7. 25.6 The Formation of the Galaxy
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  27. 26 Galaxies
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 26.1 The Discovery of Galaxies
    3. 26.2 Types of Galaxies
    4. 26.3 Properties of Galaxies
    5. 26.4 The Extragalactic Distance Scale
    6. 26.5 The Expanding Universe
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  28. 27 Active Galaxies, Quasars, and Supermassive Black Holes
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 27.1 Quasars
    3. 27.2 Supermassive Black Holes: What Quasars Really Are
    4. 27.3 Quasars as Probes of Evolution in the Universe
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. For Further Exploration
    8. Collaborative Group Activities
    9. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  29. 28 The Evolution and Distribution of Galaxies
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 28.1 Observations of Distant Galaxies
    3. 28.2 Galaxy Mergers and Active Galactic Nuclei
    4. 28.3 The Distribution of Galaxies in Space
    5. 28.4 The Challenge of Dark Matter
    6. 28.5 The Formation and Evolution of Galaxies and Structure in the Universe
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  30. 29 The Big Bang
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 29.1 The Age of the Universe
    3. 29.2 A Model of the Universe
    4. 29.3 The Beginning of the Universe
    5. 29.4 The Cosmic Microwave Background
    6. 29.5 What Is the Universe Really Made Of?
    7. 29.6 The Inflationary Universe
    8. 29.7 The Anthropic Principle
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. For Further Exploration
    12. Collaborative Group Activities
    13. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  31. 30 Life in the Universe
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 30.1 The Cosmic Context for Life
    3. 30.2 Astrobiology
    4. 30.3 Searching for Life beyond Earth
    5. 30.4 The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  32. A | How to Study for an Introductory Astronomy Class
  33. B | Astronomy Websites, Images, and Apps
  34. C | Scientific Notation
  35. D | Units Used in Science
  36. E | Some Useful Constants for Astronomy
  37. F | Physical and Orbital Data for the Planets
  38. G | Selected Moons of the Planets
  39. H | Future Total Eclipses
  40. I | The Nearest Stars, Brown Dwarfs, and White Dwarfs
  41. J | The Brightest Twenty Stars
  42. K | The Chemical Elements
  43. L | The Constellations
  44. M | Star Chart and Sky Event Resources
  45. Index

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe the properties and features of elliptical, spiral, and irregular galaxies
  • Explain what may cause a galaxy’s appearance to change over time

Having established the existence of other galaxies, Hubble and others began to observe them more closely—noting their shapes, their contents, and as many other properties as they could measure. This was a daunting task in the 1920s when obtaining a single photograph or spectrum of a galaxy could take a full night of tireless observing. Today, larger telescopes and electronic detectors have made this task less difficult, although observing the most distant galaxies (those that show us the universe in its earliest phases) still requires enormous effort.

The first step in trying to understand a new type of object is often simply to describe it. Remember, the first step in understanding stellar spectra was simply to sort them according to appearance (see Analyzing Starlight). As it turns out, the biggest and most luminous galaxies come in one of two basic shapes: either they are flatter and have spiral arms, like our own Galaxy, or they appear to be elliptical (blimp- or cigar-shaped). Many smaller galaxies, in contrast, have an irregular shape.

Spiral Galaxies

Our own Galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy are typical, large spiral galaxies (see Figure 26.2). They consist of a central bulge, a halo, a disk, and spiral arms. Interstellar material is usually spread throughout the disks of spiral galaxies. Bright emission nebulae and hot, young stars are present, especially in the spiral arms, showing that new star formation is still occurring. The disks are often dusty, which is especially noticeable in those systems that we view almost edge on (Figure 26.4).

Two Views of Spiral Galaxies. In panel (a), at left, the face-on spiral M100 is shown with the major components labeled. At center is the “Bulge”, the “Spiral arms” are indicated with arrows at top and to the right, the spiral arms lie within the “Disk” and the “Halo” surrounds most of the galaxy as a whole. Panel (b), at right, shows spiral galaxy NGC4565 that is edge-on. It appears as a thin sliver of light, with a dark dust lane bisecting the entire length and a central bulge somewhat thicker than the thin disk.
Figure 26.4 Spiral Galaxies. (a) The spiral arms of M100, shown here, are bluer than the rest of the galaxy, indicating young, high-mass stars and star-forming regions. (b) We view this spiral galaxy, NGC 4565, almost exactly edge on, and from this angle, we can see the dust in the plane of the galaxy; it appears dark because it absorbs the light from the stars in the galaxy. (credit a: modification of work by Hubble Legacy Archive, NASA, ESA, and Judy Schmidt; credit b: modification of work by “Jschulman555”/ Wikimedia)

In galaxies that we see face on, the bright stars and emission nebulae make the arms of spirals stand out like those of a pinwheel on the fourth of July. Open star clusters can be seen in the arms of nearer spirals, and globular clusters are often visible in their halos. Spiral galaxies contain a mixture of young and old stars, just as the Milky Way does. All spirals rotate, and the direction of their spin is such that the arms appear to trail much like the wake of a boat.

About two-thirds of the nearby spiral galaxies have boxy or peanut-shaped bars of stars running through their centers (Figure 26.5). Showing great originality, astronomers call these galaxies barred spirals.

Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1300. Instead of the smooth, graceful arms that emerge from the nucleus of a spiral like M100, a barred spiral has straight, elongated structures on either side of the nucleus from which the curved arms originate.
Figure 26.5 Barred Spiral Galaxy. NGC 1300, shown here, is a barred spiral galaxy. Note that the spiral arms begin at the ends of the bar. (credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team(STScI/AURA))

As we noted in The Milky Way Galaxy chapter, our Galaxy has a modest bar too (see Figure 25.10). The spiral arms usually begin from the ends of the bar. The fact that bars are so common suggests that they are long lived; it may be that most spiral galaxies form a bar at some point during their evolution.

In both barred and unbarred spiral galaxies, we observe a range of different shapes. At one extreme, the central bulge is large and luminous, the arms are faint and tightly coiled, and bright emission nebulae and supergiant stars are inconspicuous. Hubble, who developed a system of classifying galaxies by shape, gave these galaxies the designation Sa. Galaxies at this extreme may have no clear spiral arm structure, resulting in a lens-like appearance (they are sometimes referred to as lenticular galaxies). These galaxies seem to share as many properties with elliptical galaxies as they do with spiral galaxies

At the other extreme, the central bulge is small and the arms are loosely wound. In these Sc galaxies, luminous stars and emission nebulae are very prominent. Our Galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy are both intermediate between the two extremes. Photographs of spiral galaxies, illustrating the different types, are shown in Figure 26.6, along with elliptical galaxies for comparison.

Hubble Classification of Galaxies. Sometimes referred to as the “tuning fork diagram”, this figure illustrates Hubble’s classification of galaxies. From left to right are the “Ellipticals”, beginning with the spherical E0, slightly oval E3, flatter oval E5 to the very elongated oval E7. Below each illustrated type is an image of a galaxy of that type. At center is the more circular S0, from which the line splits into two parts (hence the tuning fork reference) and labeled “Spirals”. Above are the regular spirals. From left to right beginning with the short armed Sa, longer armed Sb and the open, multiple armed Sc. Above each illustrated type is an image of a galaxy of that type. Below are the barred spirals. From left to right beginning with the short bar SBa, longer bar SBb and the open, long bar SBc. Below each illustrated type is an image of a galaxy of that type.
Figure 26.6 Hubble Classification of Galaxies. This figure shows Edwin Hubble’s original classification of galaxies. Elliptical galaxies are on the left. On the right, you can see the basic spiral shapes illustrated, alongside images of actual barred and unbarred spirals. (credit: modification of work by NASA, ESA)

The luminous parts of spiral galaxies appear to range in diameter from about 20,000 to more than 100,000 light-years. Recent studies have found that there is probably a large amount of galactic material that extends well beyond the apparent edge of galaxies. This material appears to be thin, cold gas that is difficult to detect in most observations.

From the observational data available, the masses of the visible portions of spiral galaxies are estimated to range from 1 billion to 1 trillion Suns (109 to 1012 MSun). The total luminosities of most spirals fall in the range of 100 million to 100 billion times the luminosity of our Sun (108 to 1011 LSun). Our Galaxy and M31 are relatively large and massive, as spirals go. There is also considerable dark matter in and around the galaxies, just as there is in the Milky Way; we deduce its presence from how fast stars in the outer parts of the Galaxy are moving in their orbits.

Elliptical Galaxies

Elliptical galaxies consist almost entirely of old stars and have shapes that are spheres or ellipsoids (somewhat squashed spheres) (Figure 26.7). They contain no trace of spiral arms. Their light is dominated by older reddish stars (the population II stars discussed in The Milky Way Galaxy). In the larger nearby ellipticals, many globular clusters can be identified. Dust and emission nebulae are not conspicuous in elliptical galaxies, but many do contain a small amount of interstellar matter.

Elliptical Galaxies. Panel (a), at left, shows the giant elliptical ESO 325-G004, a large and nearly featureless oval of light with a bright nucleus. Panel (b), at right, shows an unnamed elliptical that has more structure within the otherwise featureless oval, suggesting a relatively recent formation from the collision of two spiral galaxies.
Figure 26.7 Elliptical Galaxies. (a) ESO 325-G004 is a giant elliptical galaxy. Other elliptical galaxies can be seen around the edges of this image. (b) This elliptical galaxy probably originated from the collision of two spiral galaxies. (credit a: modification of work by NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); credit b: modification of work by ESA/Hubble, NASA)

Elliptical galaxies show various degrees of flattening, ranging from systems that are approximately spherical to those that approach the flatness of spirals. The rare giant ellipticals (for example, ESO 325-G004 in Figure 26.7) reach luminosities of 1011 LSun. The mass in a giant elliptical can be as large as 1013 MSun. The diameters of these large galaxies extend over several hundred thousand light-years and are considerably larger than the largest spirals. Although individual stars orbit the center of an elliptical galaxy, the orbits are not all in the same direction, as occurs in spirals. Therefore, ellipticals don’t appear to rotate in a systematic way, making it difficult to estimate how much dark matter they contain.

We find that elliptical galaxies range all the way from the giants, just described, to dwarfs, which may be the most common kind of galaxy. Dwarf ellipticals (sometimes called dwarf spheroidals) escaped our notice for a long time because they are very faint and difficult to see. An example of a dwarf elliptical is the Leo I Dwarf Spheroidal galaxy shown in Figure 26.8. The luminosity of this typical dwarf is about equal to that of the brightest globular clusters.

Intermediate between the giant and dwarf elliptical galaxies are systems such as M32 and M110, the two companions of the Andromeda galaxy. While they are often referred to as dwarf ellipticals, these galaxies are significantly larger than galaxies such as Leo I.

Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy M32. This companion to the Andromeda Galaxy is, like most ellipticals, a featureless and uniform oval of light. Note that individual stars can be seen at the edges where the density of stars declines.
Figure 26.8 Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy. M32, a dwarf elliptical galaxy and one of the companions to the giant Andromeda galaxy M31. M32 is a dwarf by galactic standards, as it is only 2400 light-years across. (credit: NOAO/AURA/NSF)

Irregular Galaxies

Hubble classified galaxies that do not have the regular shapes associated with the categories we just described into the catchall bin of an irregular galaxy, and we continue to use his term. Typically, irregular galaxies have lower masses and luminosities than spiral galaxies. Irregular galaxies often appear disorganized, and many are undergoing relatively intense star formation activity. They contain both young population I stars and old population II stars.

The two best-known irregular galaxies are the Large Magellanic Cloud and Small Magellanic Cloud (Figure 26.9), which are at a distance of a little more than 160,000 light-years away and are among our nearest extragalactic neighbors. Their names reflect the fact that Ferdinand Magellan and his crew, making their round-the-world journey, were the first European travelers to notice them. Although not visible from the United States and Europe, these two systems are prominent from the Southern Hemisphere, where they look like wispy clouds in the night sky. Since they are only about one-tenth as distant as the Andromeda galaxy, they present an excellent opportunity for astronomers to study nebulae, star clusters, variable stars, and other key objects in the setting of another galaxy. For example, the Large Magellanic Cloud contains the 30 Doradus complex (also known as the Tarantula Nebula), one of the largest and most luminous groups of supergiant stars known in any galaxy.

Photograph of the 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory silhouetted against the southern sky. The Milky Way is seen to the right of the dome. The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are seen to the left.
Figure 26.9 4-Meter Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory Silhouetted against the Southern Sky. The Milky Way is seen to the right of the dome, and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are seen to the left. (credit: Roger Smith/NOAO/AURA/NSF)

The Small Magellanic Cloud is considerably less massive than the Large Magellanic Cloud, and it is six times longer than it is wide. This narrow wisp of material points directly toward our Galaxy like an arrow. The Small Magellanic Cloud was most likely contorted into its current shape through gravitational interactions with the Milky Way. A large trail of debris from this interaction between the Milky Way and the Small Magellanic Cloud has been strewn across the sky and is seen as a series of gas clouds moving at abnormally high velocity, known as the Magellanic Stream. We will see that this kind of interaction between galaxies will help explain the irregular shapes of this whole category of small galaxies,

Galaxy Evolution

Encouraged by the success of the H-R diagram for stars (see Analyzing Starlight), astronomers studying galaxies hoped to find some sort of comparable scheme, where differences in appearance could be tied to different evolutionary stages in the life of galaxies. Wouldn’t it be nice if every elliptical galaxy evolved into a spiral, for example, just as every main-sequence star evolves into a red giant? Several simple ideas of this kind were tried, some by Hubble himself, but none stood the test of time (and observation).

Because no simple scheme for evolving one type of galaxy into another could be found, astronomers then tended to the opposite point of view. For a while, most astronomers thought that all galaxies formed very early in the history of the universe and that the differences between them had to do with the rate of star formation. Ellipticals were those galaxies in which all the interstellar matter was converted rapidly into stars. Spirals were galaxies in which star formation occurred slowly over the entire lifetime of the galaxy. This idea turned out to be too simple as well.

Today, we understand that at least some galaxies have changed types over the billions of years since the universe began. As we shall see in later chapters, collisions and mergers between galaxies may dramatically change spiral galaxies into elliptical galaxies. Even isolated spirals (with no neighbor galaxies in sight) can change their appearance over time. As they consume their gas, the rate of star formation will slow down, and the spiral arms will gradually become less conspicuous. Over long periods, spirals therefore begin to look more like the galaxies at the middle of Figure 26.6 (which astronomers refer to as S0 types).

Over the past several decades, the study of how galaxies evolve over the lifetime of the universe has become one of the most active fields of astronomical research. We will discuss the evolution of galaxies in more detail in The Evolution and Distribution of Galaxies, but let’s first see in a little more detail just what different galaxies are like.

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