Galaxy

Galaxy

Overview
A galaxy is a massive, gravitationally bound
Gravitation
Gravitation, or gravity, is a natural phenomenon by which physical bodies attract with a force proportional to their mass. Gravitation is most familiar as the agent that gives weight to objects with mass and causes them to fall to the ground when dropped...

 system that consists of star
Star
A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...

s and stellar remnants, an interstellar medium
Interstellar medium
In astronomy, the interstellar medium is the matter that exists in the space between the star systems in a galaxy. This matter includes gas in ionic, atomic, and molecular form, dust, and cosmic rays. It fills interstellar space and blends smoothly into the surrounding intergalactic space...

 of gas and dust
Cosmic dust
Cosmic dust is a type of dust composed of particles in space which are a few molecules to 0.1 µm in size. Cosmic dust can be further distinguished by its astronomical location; for example: intergalactic dust, interstellar dust, interplanetary dust and circumplanetary dust .In our own Solar...

, and an important but poorly understood component tentatively dubbed dark matter
Dark matter
In astronomy and cosmology, dark matter is matter that neither emits nor scatters light or other electromagnetic radiation, and so cannot be directly detected via optical or radio astronomy...

. The word galaxy is derived from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

  galaxias , literally "milky", a reference to the Milky Way
Milky Way
The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains the Solar System. This name derives from its appearance as a dim un-resolved "milky" glowing band arching across the night sky...

 galaxy. Examples of galaxies range from dwarfs
Dwarf galaxy
A dwarf galaxy is a small galaxy composed of up to several billion stars, a small number compared to our own Milky Way's 200-400 billion stars...

 with as few as ten million (107) stars to giants with a hundred trillion (1014) stars, each orbiting their galaxy's own center of mass
Center of mass
In physics, the center of mass or barycenter of a system is the average location of all of its mass. In the case of a rigid body, the position of the center of mass is fixed in relation to the body...

.

Galaxies contain varying amounts of star system
Star system
A star system or stellar system is a small number of stars which orbit each other, bound by gravitational attraction. A large number of stars bound by gravitation is generally called a star cluster or galaxy, although, broadly speaking, they are also star systems.-Binary star systems:A stellar...

s, star cluster
Star cluster
Star clusters or star clouds are groups of stars. Two types of star clusters can be distinguished: globular clusters are tight groups of hundreds of thousands of very old stars which are gravitationally bound, while open clusters, more loosely clustered groups of stars, generally contain less than...

s and types of interstellar cloud
Interstellar cloud
Interstellar cloud is the generic name given to an accumulation of gas, plasma and dust in our and other galaxies. Put differently, an interstellar cloud is a denser-than-average region of the interstellar medium. Depending on the density, size and temperature of a given cloud, the hydrogen in it...

s.
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Encyclopedia
A galaxy is a massive, gravitationally bound
Gravitation
Gravitation, or gravity, is a natural phenomenon by which physical bodies attract with a force proportional to their mass. Gravitation is most familiar as the agent that gives weight to objects with mass and causes them to fall to the ground when dropped...

 system that consists of star
Star
A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...

s and stellar remnants, an interstellar medium
Interstellar medium
In astronomy, the interstellar medium is the matter that exists in the space between the star systems in a galaxy. This matter includes gas in ionic, atomic, and molecular form, dust, and cosmic rays. It fills interstellar space and blends smoothly into the surrounding intergalactic space...

 of gas and dust
Cosmic dust
Cosmic dust is a type of dust composed of particles in space which are a few molecules to 0.1 µm in size. Cosmic dust can be further distinguished by its astronomical location; for example: intergalactic dust, interstellar dust, interplanetary dust and circumplanetary dust .In our own Solar...

, and an important but poorly understood component tentatively dubbed dark matter
Dark matter
In astronomy and cosmology, dark matter is matter that neither emits nor scatters light or other electromagnetic radiation, and so cannot be directly detected via optical or radio astronomy...

. The word galaxy is derived from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

  galaxias , literally "milky", a reference to the Milky Way
Milky Way
The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains the Solar System. This name derives from its appearance as a dim un-resolved "milky" glowing band arching across the night sky...

 galaxy. Examples of galaxies range from dwarfs
Dwarf galaxy
A dwarf galaxy is a small galaxy composed of up to several billion stars, a small number compared to our own Milky Way's 200-400 billion stars...

 with as few as ten million (107) stars to giants with a hundred trillion (1014) stars, each orbiting their galaxy's own center of mass
Center of mass
In physics, the center of mass or barycenter of a system is the average location of all of its mass. In the case of a rigid body, the position of the center of mass is fixed in relation to the body...

.

Galaxies contain varying amounts of star system
Star system
A star system or stellar system is a small number of stars which orbit each other, bound by gravitational attraction. A large number of stars bound by gravitation is generally called a star cluster or galaxy, although, broadly speaking, they are also star systems.-Binary star systems:A stellar...

s, star cluster
Star cluster
Star clusters or star clouds are groups of stars. Two types of star clusters can be distinguished: globular clusters are tight groups of hundreds of thousands of very old stars which are gravitationally bound, while open clusters, more loosely clustered groups of stars, generally contain less than...

s and types of interstellar cloud
Interstellar cloud
Interstellar cloud is the generic name given to an accumulation of gas, plasma and dust in our and other galaxies. Put differently, an interstellar cloud is a denser-than-average region of the interstellar medium. Depending on the density, size and temperature of a given cloud, the hydrogen in it...

s. In between these objects is a sparse interstellar medium
Interstellar medium
In astronomy, the interstellar medium is the matter that exists in the space between the star systems in a galaxy. This matter includes gas in ionic, atomic, and molecular form, dust, and cosmic rays. It fills interstellar space and blends smoothly into the surrounding intergalactic space...

 of gas, dust, and cosmic ray
Cosmic ray
Cosmic rays are energetic charged subatomic particles, originating from outer space. They may produce secondary particles that penetrate the Earth's atmosphere and surface. The term ray is historical as cosmic rays were thought to be electromagnetic radiation...

s. Dark matter
Dark matter
In astronomy and cosmology, dark matter is matter that neither emits nor scatters light or other electromagnetic radiation, and so cannot be directly detected via optical or radio astronomy...

 appears to account for around 90% of the mass
Mass
Mass can be defined as a quantitive measure of the resistance an object has to change in its velocity.In physics, mass commonly refers to any of the following three properties of matter, which have been shown experimentally to be equivalent:...

 of most galaxies. Observational data suggests that supermassive black hole
Supermassive black hole
A supermassive black hole is the largest type of black hole in a galaxy, in the order of hundreds of thousands to billions of solar masses. Most, and possibly all galaxies, including the Milky Way, are believed to contain supermassive black holes at their centers.Supermassive black holes have...

s may exist at the center of many, if not all, galaxies. They are thought to be the primary driver of active galactic nuclei
Active galactic nucleus
An active galactic nucleus is a compact region at the centre of a galaxy that has a much higher than normal luminosity over at least some portion, and possibly all, of the electromagnetic spectrum. Such excess emission has been observed in the radio, infrared, optical, ultra-violet, X-ray and...

 found at the core of some galaxies. The Milky Way galaxy appears to harbor at least one such object.

Galaxies have been historically categorized according to their apparent shape; usually referred to as their visual morphology. A common form is the elliptical galaxy
Elliptical galaxy
An elliptical galaxy is a galaxy having an approximately ellipsoidal shape and a smooth, nearly featureless brightness profile. They range in shape from nearly spherical to highly flat and in size from hundreds of millions to over one trillion stars...

, which has an ellipse
Ellipse
In geometry, an ellipse is a plane curve that results from the intersection of a cone by a plane in a way that produces a closed curve. Circles are special cases of ellipses, obtained when the cutting plane is orthogonal to the cone's axis...

-shaped light profile. Spiral galaxies
Spiral galaxy
A spiral galaxy is a certain kind of galaxy originally described by Edwin Hubble in his 1936 work The Realm of the Nebulae and, as such, forms part of the Hubble sequence. Spiral galaxies consist of a flat, rotating disk containing stars, gas and dust, and a central concentration of stars known as...

 are disk-shaped with dusty, curving arms. Those with irregular or unusual shapes are known as irregular galaxies
Irregular galaxy
An irregular galaxy is a galaxy that does not have a distinct regular shape, like a spiral or an elliptical galaxy. The shape of an irregular galaxy is uncommon – they do not fall into any of the regular classes of the Hubble sequence, and they are often chaotic in appearance, with neither a...

 and typically originate from disruption by the gravitational pull of neighboring galaxies. Such interactions between nearby galaxies, which may ultimately result in a merging, sometimes induce significantly increased incidents of star formation
Star formation
Star formation is the process by which dense parts of molecular clouds collapse into a ball of plasma to form a star. As a branch of astronomy star formation includes the study of the interstellar medium and giant molecular clouds as precursors to the star formation process and the study of young...

 leading starburst galaxy
Starburst galaxy
A starburst galaxy is a galaxy in the process of an exceptionally high rate of star formation, compared to the usual star formation rate seen in most galaxies. Galaxies are often observed to have a burst of star formation after a collision or close encounter between two galaxies...

s. Smaller galaxies lacking a coherent structure are referred to as irregular galaxies
Irregular galaxy
An irregular galaxy is a galaxy that does not have a distinct regular shape, like a spiral or an elliptical galaxy. The shape of an irregular galaxy is uncommon – they do not fall into any of the regular classes of the Hubble sequence, and they are often chaotic in appearance, with neither a...

.

There are probably more than 170 billion galaxies in the observable universe
Observable universe
In Big Bang cosmology, the observable universe consists of the galaxies and other matter that we can in principle observe from Earth in the present day, because light from those objects has had time to reach us since the beginning of the cosmological expansion...

. Most are 1,000 to 100,000 parsec
Parsec
The parsec is a unit of length used in astronomy. It is about 3.26 light-years, or just under 31 trillion kilometres ....

s in diameter and usually separated by distances on the order of millions of parsecs (or megaparsecs). Intergalactic space (the space between galaxies) is filled with a tenuous gas of an average density less than one atom
Atom
The atom is a basic unit of matter that consists of a dense central nucleus surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons. The atomic nucleus contains a mix of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons...

 per cubic meter. The majority of galaxies are organized into a hierarchy of associations known as groups and clusters
Galaxy groups and clusters
Galaxy groups and clusters are the largest known gravitationally bound objects to have arisen thus far in the process of cosmic structure formation. They form the densest part of the large scale structure of the universe...

, which, in turn usually form larger supercluster
Supercluster
Superclusters are large groups of smaller galaxy groups and clusters and are among the largest known structures of the cosmos. They are so large that they are not gravitationally bound and, consequently, partake in the Hubble expansion.-Existence:...

s. At the largest scale, these associations are generally arranged into sheets and filaments
Galaxy filament
In physical cosmology, galaxy filaments, also called supercluster complexes or great walls, are, so far, the largest known cosmic structures in the universe. They are massive, thread-like structures with a typical length of 50 to 80 megaparsecs h-1 that form the boundaries between large voids in...

, which are surrounded by immense voids
Void (astronomy)
In astronomy, voids are the empty spaces between filaments, the largest-scale structures in the Universe, that contain very few, or no, galaxies. They were first discovered in 1978 during a pioneering study by Stephen Gregory and Laird A. Thompson at the Kitt Peak National Observatory...

.

Etymology


The word galaxy derives from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 term for our own galaxy, galaxias (γαλαξίας), or kyklos
Kyklos
The Kyklos is a term used by some classical Greek authors to describe what they saw as the political cycle of governments in a society. It was roughly based on the history of Greek city-states in the same period. The concept of "The Kyklos" is first elaborated in Plato's Republic, chapters VIII...

 galaktikos
, meaning "milky circle" for its appearance in the sky. In Greek mythology
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

, Zeus
Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

 places his son born by a mortal woman, the infant Heracles
Heracles
Heracles ,born Alcaeus or Alcides , was a divine hero in Greek mythology, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, foster son of Amphitryon and great-grandson of Perseus...

, on Hera
Hera
Hera was the wife and one of three sisters of Zeus in the Olympian pantheon of Greek mythology and religion. Her chief function was as the goddess of women and marriage. Her counterpart in the religion of ancient Rome was Juno. The cow and the peacock were sacred to her...

's breast while she is asleep so that the baby will drink her divine milk and will thus become immortal. Hera wakes up while breastfeeding and then realizes she is nursing an unknown baby: she pushes the baby away and a jet of her milk sprays the night sky, producing the faint band of light known as the Milky Way.

In the astronomical literature, the capitalized word 'Galaxy' is used to refer to our galaxy, the Milky Way
Milky Way
The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains the Solar System. This name derives from its appearance as a dim un-resolved "milky" glowing band arching across the night sky...

, to distinguish it from the billions of other galaxies. The term Milky Way first appeared in the English language in a story by Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer , known as the Father of English literature, is widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and was the first poet to have been buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey...

.
When William Herschel
William Herschel
Sir Frederick William Herschel, KH, FRS, German: Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel was a German-born British astronomer, technical expert, and composer. Born in Hanover, Wilhelm first followed his father into the Military Band of Hanover, but emigrated to Britain at age 19...

 constructed his catalog
Catalogue of Nebulae
The Catalogue of Nebulae was first published in 1786 by William Herschel. It was eventually expanded by his son John Herschel into the General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters, and further expanded by J. L. E...

 of deep sky objects in 1786, he used the name spiral nebula for certain objects such as M31
Andromeda Galaxy
The Andromeda Galaxy is a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Andromeda. It is also known as Messier 31, M31, or NGC 224, and is often referred to as the Great Andromeda Nebula in older texts. Andromeda is the nearest spiral galaxy to the...

. These would later be recognized as immense conglomerations of stars, when the true distance to these objects began to be appreciated, and they would be termed island universes. However, the word Universe was understood to mean the entirety of existence, so this expression fell into disuse and the objects instead became known as galaxies.

Observation history


The realization that we live in a galaxy, and that there were, in fact, many other galaxies, parallels discoveries that were made about the Milky Way and other nebula
Nebula
A nebula is an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen gas, helium gas and other ionized gases...

e in the night sky.

The Milky Way



The Greek philosopher
Greek philosophy
Ancient Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BCE and continued through the Hellenistic period, at which point Ancient Greece was incorporated in the Roman Empire...

 Democritus
Democritus
Democritus was an Ancient Greek philosopher born in Abdera, Thrace, Greece. He was an influential pre-Socratic philosopher and pupil of Leucippus, who formulated an atomic theory for the cosmos....

 (450–370 BC) proposed that the bright band on the night sky known as the Milky Way might consist of distant stars. Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 (384–322 BC), however, believed the Milky Way to be caused by "the ignition of the fiery exhalation of some stars which were large, numerous and close together" and that the "ignition takes place in the upper part of the atmosphere
Atmosphere
An atmosphere is a layer of gases that may surround a material body of sufficient mass, and that is held in place by the gravity of the body. An atmosphere may be retained for a longer duration, if the gravity is high and the atmosphere's temperature is low...

, in the region of the world which is continuous with the heavenly motions
Sublunary sphere
The sublunary sphere is a concept derived from Greek astronomy. It is the region of the cosmos from the Earth to the Moon, consisting of the four classical elements: earth, water, air, and fire. Beginning with the Moon, up to the limits of the universe, everything is made of aether...

." The Neoplatonist
Neoplatonism
Neoplatonism , is the modern term for a school of religious and mystical philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century AD, based on the teachings of Plato and earlier Platonists, with its earliest contributor believed to be Plotinus, and his teacher Ammonius Saccas...

 philosopher Olympiodorus the Younger
Olympiodorus the Younger
Olympiodorus the Younger was a Neoplatonist philosopher, astrologer and teacher who lived in the early years of the Byzantine Empire, after Justinian's Decree of 529 A.D. which closed Plato's Academy in Athens and other pagan schools...

 (c. 495–570 AD) criticized this view, arguing that if the Milky Way were sublunary it should appear different at different times and places on the Earth, and that it should have parallax
Parallax
Parallax is a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight, and is measured by the angle or semi-angle of inclination between those two lines. The term is derived from the Greek παράλλαξις , meaning "alteration"...

, which it does not. In his view, the Milky Way was celestial. This idea would be influential later in the Islamic world
Muslim world
The term Muslim world has several meanings. In a religious sense, it refers to those who adhere to the teachings of Islam, referred to as Muslims. In a cultural sense, it refers to Islamic civilization, inclusive of non-Muslims living in that civilization...

.

The Arabian astronomer
Islamic astronomy
Islamic astronomy or Arabic astronomy comprises the astronomical developments made in the Islamic world, particularly during the Islamic Golden Age , and mostly written in the Arabic language. These developments mostly took place in the Middle East, Central Asia, Al-Andalus, and North Africa, and...

, Alhazen (965–1037), made the first attempt at observing and measuring the Milky Way's parallax, and he thus "determined that because the Milky Way had no parallax, it was very remote from the Earth and did not belong to the atmosphere." The Persian
Persian people
The Persian people are part of the Iranian peoples who speak the modern Persian language and closely akin Iranian dialects and languages. The origin of the ethnic Iranian/Persian peoples are traced to the Ancient Iranian peoples, who were part of the ancient Indo-Iranians and themselves part of...

 astronomer Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī (973–1048) proposed the Milky Way galaxy to be "a collection of countless fragments of the nature of nebulous stars." The Andalusian
Al-Andalus
Al-Andalus was the Arabic name given to a nation and territorial region also commonly referred to as Moorish Iberia. The name describes parts of the Iberian Peninsula and Septimania governed by Muslims , at various times in the period between 711 and 1492, although the territorial boundaries...

 astronomer Ibn Bajjah
Ibn Bajjah
Abū-Bakr Muhammad ibn Yahya ibn al-Sāyigh , known as Ibn Bājjah , was an Andalusian polymath: an astronomer, logician, musician, philosopher, physician, physicist, psychologist, botanist, poet and scientist. He was known in the West by his Latinized name, Avempace...

 ("Avempace", d. 1138) proposed that the Milky Way was made up of many stars that almost touch one another and appear to be a continuous image due to the effect of refraction
Refraction
Refraction is the change in direction of a wave due to a change in its speed. It is essentially a surface phenomenon . The phenomenon is mainly in governance to the law of conservation of energy. The proper explanation would be that due to change of medium, the phase velocity of the wave is changed...

 from sublunary material, citing his observation of the conjunction of Jupiter and Mars as evidence of this occurring when two objects are near. The Syrian-born Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya (1292–1350) proposed the Milky Way galaxy to be "a myriad of tiny stars packed together in the sphere of the fixed stars".

Actual proof of the Milky Way consisting of many stars came in 1610 when Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei , was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. His achievements include improvements to the telescope and consequent astronomical observations and support for Copernicanism...

 used a telescope
Optical telescope
An optical telescope is a telescope which is used to gather and focus light mainly from the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum for directly viewing a magnified image for making a photograph, or collecting data through electronic image sensors....

 to study the Milky Way and discovered that it is composed of a huge number of faint stars. In 1750 Thomas Wright
Thomas Wright (astronomer)
Thomas Wright was an English astronomer, mathematician, instrument maker, architect and garden designer. He was the first to describe the shape of the Milky Way and speculate that faint nebulae were distant galaxies....

, in his An original theory or new hypothesis of the Universe, speculated (correctly) that the galaxy might be a rotating body of a huge number of stars held together by gravitational forces
Gravitation
Gravitation, or gravity, is a natural phenomenon by which physical bodies attract with a force proportional to their mass. Gravitation is most familiar as the agent that gives weight to objects with mass and causes them to fall to the ground when dropped...

, akin to the solar system but on a much larger scale. The resulting disk of stars can be seen as a band on the sky from our perspective inside the disk. In a treatise in 1755, Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher from Königsberg , researching, lecturing and writing on philosophy and anthropology at the end of the 18th Century Enlightenment....

 elaborated on Wright's idea about the structure of the Milky Way.

The first attempt to describe the shape of the Milky Way and the position of the Sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

 in it was carried out by William Herschel
William Herschel
Sir Frederick William Herschel, KH, FRS, German: Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel was a German-born British astronomer, technical expert, and composer. Born in Hanover, Wilhelm first followed his father into the Military Band of Hanover, but emigrated to Britain at age 19...

 in 1785 by carefully counting the number of stars in different regions of the sky. He produced a diagram of the shape of the galaxy with the solar system close to the center. Using a refined approach, Kapteyn
Jacobus Kapteyn
Jacobus Cornelius Kapteyn, was a Dutch astronomer, best known for his extensive studies of the Milky Way and as the first discoverer of evidence for galactic rotation....

 in 1920 arrived at the picture of a small (diameter about 15 kiloparsecs) ellipsoid galaxy with the Sun close to the center. A different method by Harlow Shapley
Harlow Shapley
Harlow Shapley was an American astronomer.-Career:He was born on a farm in Nashville, Missouri, and dropped out of school with only the equivalent of a fifth-grade education...

 based on the cataloguing of globular cluster
Globular cluster
A globular cluster is a spherical collection of stars that orbits a galactic core as a satellite. Globular clusters are very tightly bound by gravity, which gives them their spherical shapes and relatively high stellar densities toward their centers. The name of this category of star cluster is...

s led to a radically different picture: a flat disk with diameter approximately 70 kiloparsecs and the Sun far from the center. Both analyses failed to take into account the absorption of light
Extinction (astronomy)
Extinction is a term used in astronomy to describe the absorption and scattering of electromagnetic radiation by matter between an emitting astronomical object and the observer. Interstellar extinction—also called Galactic extinction, when it occurs in the Milky Way—was first...

 by interstellar dust
Cosmic dust
Cosmic dust is a type of dust composed of particles in space which are a few molecules to 0.1 µm in size. Cosmic dust can be further distinguished by its astronomical location; for example: intergalactic dust, interstellar dust, interplanetary dust and circumplanetary dust .In our own Solar...

 present in the galactic plane
Galactic plane
The galactic plane is the plane in which the majority of a disk-shaped galaxy's mass lies. The directions perpendicular to the galactic plane point to the galactic poles...

, but after Robert Julius Trumpler
Robert Julius Trumpler
Robert Julius Trumpler was a Swiss-American astronomer....

 quantified this effect in 1930 by studying open cluster
Open cluster
An open cluster is a group of up to a few thousand stars that were formed from the same giant molecular cloud and have roughly the same age. More than 1,100 open clusters have been discovered within the Milky Way Galaxy, and many more are thought to exist...

s, the present picture of our galaxy, the Milky Way, emerged.

Distinction from other nebulae


In the 10th century, the Persian astronomer
Islamic astronomy
Islamic astronomy or Arabic astronomy comprises the astronomical developments made in the Islamic world, particularly during the Islamic Golden Age , and mostly written in the Arabic language. These developments mostly took place in the Middle East, Central Asia, Al-Andalus, and North Africa, and...

, Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi (known in the West as Azophi), made the earliest recorded observation of the Andromeda Galaxy
Andromeda Galaxy
The Andromeda Galaxy is a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Andromeda. It is also known as Messier 31, M31, or NGC 224, and is often referred to as the Great Andromeda Nebula in older texts. Andromeda is the nearest spiral galaxy to the...

, describing it as a "small cloud". Al-Sufi also identified the Large Magellanic Cloud
Large Magellanic Cloud
The Large Magellanic Cloud is a nearby irregular galaxy, and is a satellite of the Milky Way. At a distance of slightly less than 50 kiloparsecs , the LMC is the third closest galaxy to the Milky Way, with the Sagittarius Dwarf Spheroidal and Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy lying closer to the center...

, which is visible from Yemen
Yemen
The Republic of Yemen , commonly known as Yemen , is a country located in the Middle East, occupying the southwestern to southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, and Oman to the east....

, though not from Isfahan; it was not seen by Europeans until Magellan
Ferdinand Magellan
Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese explorer. He was born in Sabrosa, in northern Portugal, and served King Charles I of Spain in search of a westward route to the "Spice Islands" ....

's voyage in the 16th century. These were the first galaxies other than the Milky Way to be observed from Earth. Al-Sufi published his findings in his Book of Fixed Stars
Book of Fixed Stars
The Book of Fixed Stars is an astronomical text written by Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi around 964. The book was written in Arabic, although the author himself was Persian...

in 964.

In 1750 Thomas Wright
Thomas Wright (astronomer)
Thomas Wright was an English astronomer, mathematician, instrument maker, architect and garden designer. He was the first to describe the shape of the Milky Way and speculate that faint nebulae were distant galaxies....

, in his An original theory or new hypothesis of the Universe, speculated (correctly) that Milky Way was a flattened disk of stars, and that some of the nebula
Nebula
A nebula is an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen gas, helium gas and other ionized gases...

e visible in the night sky might be separate Milky Ways. In 1755 Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher from Königsberg , researching, lecturing and writing on philosophy and anthropology at the end of the 18th Century Enlightenment....

 introduced the term "island universe" for these distant nebulae.

Toward the end of the 18th century, Charles Messier
Charles Messier
Charles Messier was a French astronomer most notable for publishing an astronomical catalogue consisting of deep sky objects such as nebulae and star clusters that came to be known as the 110 "Messier objects"...

 compiled a catalog
Messier object
The Messier objects are a set of astronomical objects first listed by French astronomer Charles Messier in 1771. The original motivation of the catalogue was that Messier was a comet hunter, and was frustrated by objects which resembled but were not comets...

 containing the 109 brightest nebulae (celestial objects with a nebulous appearance), later followed by a larger catalog of 5,000 nebulae assembled by William Herschel. In 1845, Lord Rosse
William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse
William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse, Knight of the Order of St Patrick was an Irish astronomer who had several telescopes built. His 72-inch telescope "Leviathan", built 1845, was the world's largest telescope until the early 20th century.-Life:He was born in Yorkshire, England, in the city of...

 constructed a new telescope and was able to distinguish between elliptical and spiral nebulae. He also managed to make out individual point sources in some of these nebulae, lending credence to Kant's earlier conjecture.

In 1912, Vesto Slipher
Vesto Slipher
Vesto Melvin Slipher was an American astronomer. His brother Earl C. Slipher was also an astronomer and a director at the Lowell Observatory....

 made spectrographic studies of the brightest spiral nebulae to determine if they were made from chemicals that would be expected in a planetary system. However, Slipher discovered that the spiral nebulae had high red shifts, indicating that they were moving away at rate higher than the Milky Way's escape velocity
Escape velocity
In physics, escape velocity is the speed at which the kinetic energy plus the gravitational potential energy of an object is zero gravitational potential energy is negative since gravity is an attractive force and the potential is defined to be zero at infinity...

. Thus they were not gravitationally bound to the Milky Way, and were unlikely to be a part of the galaxy.

In 1917, Heber Curtis had observed a nova S Andromedae
S Andromedae
|- style="background-color: #A0B0FF;" colspan="3"| Database References|- bgcolor="#FFFAFA"| Simbad || |- bgcolor="#FFFAFA"| ||...

 within the "Great Andromeda
Andromeda (constellation)
Andromeda is a constellation in the northern sky. It is named after Andromeda, the princess in the Greek legend of Perseus who was chained to a rock to be eaten by the sea monster Cetus...

 Nebula" (Messier object
Messier object
The Messier objects are a set of astronomical objects first listed by French astronomer Charles Messier in 1771. The original motivation of the catalogue was that Messier was a comet hunter, and was frustrated by objects which resembled but were not comets...

 M31
Andromeda Galaxy
The Andromeda Galaxy is a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Andromeda. It is also known as Messier 31, M31, or NGC 224, and is often referred to as the Great Andromeda Nebula in older texts. Andromeda is the nearest spiral galaxy to the...

). Searching the photographic record, he found 11 more nova
Nova
A nova is a cataclysmic nuclear explosion in a star caused by the accretion of hydrogen on to the surface of a white dwarf star, which ignites and starts nuclear fusion in a runaway manner...

e. Curtis noticed that these novae were, on average, 10 magnitudes
Magnitude (astronomy)
Magnitude is the logarithmic measure of the brightness of an object, in astronomy, measured in a specific wavelength or passband, usually in optical or near-infrared wavelengths.-Background:...

 fainter than those that occurred within our galaxy. As a result he was able to come up with a distance estimate of 150,000 parsec
Parsec
The parsec is a unit of length used in astronomy. It is about 3.26 light-years, or just under 31 trillion kilometres ....

s. He became a proponent of the so-called "island universes" hypothesis, which holds that spiral nebulae are actually independent galaxies.


In 1920 the so-called Great Debate
The Great Debate
In astronomy, the Great Debate, also called the Shapley–Curtis Debate, was an influential debate between the astronomers Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis which concerned the nature of spiral nebulae and the size of the universe...

 took place between Harlow Shapley
Harlow Shapley
Harlow Shapley was an American astronomer.-Career:He was born on a farm in Nashville, Missouri, and dropped out of school with only the equivalent of a fifth-grade education...

 and Heber Curtis, concerning the nature of the Milky Way, spiral nebulae, and the dimensions of the Universe. To support his claim that the Great Andromeda Nebula was an external galaxy, Curtis noted the appearance of dark lanes resembling the dust clouds in the Milky Way, as well as the significant Doppler shift
Doppler effect
The Doppler effect , named after Austrian physicist Christian Doppler who proposed it in 1842 in Prague, is the change in frequency of a wave for an observer moving relative to the source of the wave. It is commonly heard when a vehicle sounding a siren or horn approaches, passes, and recedes from...

.

The matter was conclusively settled in the early 1920s.
In 1922, astronomer Ernst Öpik
Ernst Öpik
Ernst Julius Öpik was a noted Estonian astronomer and astrophysicist who spent the second half of his career at the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland.-Education:...

 gave a distance determination which supported the theory that the Andromeda Nebula is indeed a distant extra-galactic object. Using the new 100 inch Mt. Wilson
Mount Wilson Observatory
The Mount Wilson Observatory is an astronomical observatory in Los Angeles County, California, United States. The MWO is located on Mount Wilson, a 5,715 foot peak in the San Gabriel Mountains near Pasadena, northeast of Los Angeles...

 telescope, Edwin Hubble
Edwin Hubble
Edwin Powell Hubble was an American astronomer who profoundly changed the understanding of the universe by confirming the existence of galaxies other than the Milky Way - our own galaxy...

 was able to resolve the outer parts of some spiral nebulae as collections of individual stars and identified some Cepheid variable
Cepheid variable
A Cepheid is a member of a class of very luminous variable stars. The strong direct relationship between a Cepheid variable's luminosity and pulsation period, secures for Cepheids their status as important standard candles for establishing the Galactic and extragalactic distance scales.Cepheid...

s, thus allowing him to estimate the distance to the nebulae: they were far too distant to be part of the Milky Way. In 1936 Hubble produced a classification system for galaxies that is used to this day, the Hubble sequence.

Modern research



In 1944, Hendrik van de Hulst
Hendrik C. van de Hulst
Hendrik Christoffel "Henk" van de Hulst FRS was a Dutch astronomer and mathematician....

 predicted microwave
Microwave
Microwaves, a subset of radio waves, have wavelengths ranging from as long as one meter to as short as one millimeter, or equivalently, with frequencies between 300 MHz and 300 GHz. This broad definition includes both UHF and EHF , and various sources use different boundaries...

 radiation at a wavelength of 21 cm
Hydrogen line
The hydrogen line, 21 centimeter line or HI line refers to the electromagnetic radiation spectral line that is created by a change in the energy state of neutral hydrogen atoms. This electromagnetic radiation is at the precise frequency of 1420.40575177 MHz, which is equivalent to the vacuum...

 resulting from interstellar atomic hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

 gas; this radiation was observed in 1951. The radiation allowed for much improved study of the Milky Way Galaxy, since it is not affected by dust absorption and its Doppler shift can be used to map the motion of the gas in the Galaxy. These observations led to the postulation of a rotating bar structure
Barred spiral galaxy
A barred spiral galaxy is a spiral galaxy with a central bar-shaped structure composed of stars. Bars are found in approximately two-thirds of all spiral galaxies...

 in the center of the Galaxy. With improved radio telescope
Radio telescope
A radio telescope is a form of directional radio antenna used in radio astronomy. The same types of antennas are also used in tracking and collecting data from satellites and space probes...

s, hydrogen gas could also be traced in other galaxies.

In the 1970s it was discovered in Vera Rubin
Vera Rubin
Vera Rubin is an American astronomer who pioneered work on galaxy rotation rates. She is famous for uncovering the discrepancy between the predicted angular motion of galaxies and the observed motion, by studying galactic rotation curves...

's study of the rotation speed
Galaxy rotation curve
The rotation curve of a galaxy can be represented by a graph that plots the orbital velocity of the stars or gas in the galaxy on the y-axis against the distance from the center of the galaxy on the x-axis....

 of gas in galaxies that the total visible mass (from the stars and gas) does not properly account for the speed of the rotating gas. This galaxy rotation problem is thought to be explained by the presence of large quantities of unseen dark matter
Dark matter
In astronomy and cosmology, dark matter is matter that neither emits nor scatters light or other electromagnetic radiation, and so cannot be directly detected via optical or radio astronomy...

.

Beginning in the 1990s, the Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble Space Telescope
The Hubble Space Telescope is a space telescope that was carried into orbit by a Space Shuttle in 1990 and remains in operation. A 2.4 meter aperture telescope in low Earth orbit, Hubble's four main instruments observe in the near ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared...

 yielded improved observations. Among other things, it established that the missing dark matter in our galaxy cannot solely consist of inherently faint and small stars. The Hubble Deep Field
Hubble Deep Field
The Hubble Deep Field is an image of a small region in the constellation Ursa Major, constructed from a series of observations by the Hubble Space Telescope. It covers an area 2.5 arcminutes across, two parts in a million of the whole sky, which is equivalent in angular size to a 65 mm tennis...

, an extremely long exposure of a relatively empty part of the sky, provided evidence that there are about 125 billion galaxies in the universe. Improved technology in detecting the spectra
Electromagnetic spectrum
The electromagnetic spectrum is the range of all possible frequencies of electromagnetic radiation. The "electromagnetic spectrum" of an object is the characteristic distribution of electromagnetic radiation emitted or absorbed by that particular object....

 invisible to humans (radio telescopes, infrared cameras, and x-ray telescopes
X-ray astronomy
X-ray astronomy is an observational branch of astronomy which deals with the study of X-ray observation and detection from astronomical objects. X-radiation is absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere, so instruments to detect X-rays must be taken to high altitude by balloons, sounding rockets, and...

) allow detection of other galaxies that are not detected by Hubble. Particularly, galaxy surveys in the Zone of Avoidance
Zone of Avoidance
The Zone of Avoidance is the area of the night sky that is obscured by our own galaxy, the Milky Way.-Term:The ZOA was originally called the "Zone of Few Nebulae" in an 1878 paper by English astronomer Richard Proctor that referred to the distribution of "nebulae" in Sir John Herschel's General...

 (the region of the sky blocked by the Milky Way) have revealed a number of new galaxies.

Types and morphology



Galaxies come in three main types: ellipticals, spirals, and irregulars. A slightly more extensive description of galaxy types based on their appearance is given by the Hubble sequence. Since the Hubble sequence is entirely based upon visual morphological type, it may miss certain important characteristics of galaxies such as star formation
Star formation
Star formation is the process by which dense parts of molecular clouds collapse into a ball of plasma to form a star. As a branch of astronomy star formation includes the study of the interstellar medium and giant molecular clouds as precursors to the star formation process and the study of young...

 rate (in starburst galaxies) and activity in the core (in active galaxies).

Ellipticals



The Hubble classification system rates elliptical galaxies on the basis of their ellipticity, ranging from E0, being nearly spherical, up to E7, which is highly elongated. These galaxies have an ellipsoidal profile, giving them an elliptical appearance regardless of the viewing angle. Their appearance shows little structure and they typically have relatively little interstellar matter
Interstellar medium
In astronomy, the interstellar medium is the matter that exists in the space between the star systems in a galaxy. This matter includes gas in ionic, atomic, and molecular form, dust, and cosmic rays. It fills interstellar space and blends smoothly into the surrounding intergalactic space...

. Consequently these galaxies also have a low portion of open cluster
Open cluster
An open cluster is a group of up to a few thousand stars that were formed from the same giant molecular cloud and have roughly the same age. More than 1,100 open clusters have been discovered within the Milky Way Galaxy, and many more are thought to exist...

s and a reduced rate of new star formation. Instead they are dominated by generally older, more evolved stars
Stellar evolution
Stellar evolution is the process by which a star undergoes a sequence of radical changes during its lifetime. Depending on the mass of the star, this lifetime ranges from only a few million years to trillions of years .Stellar evolution is not studied by observing the life of a single...

 that are orbiting the common center of gravity in random directions. In this sense they have some similarity to the much smaller globular cluster
Globular cluster
A globular cluster is a spherical collection of stars that orbits a galactic core as a satellite. Globular clusters are very tightly bound by gravity, which gives them their spherical shapes and relatively high stellar densities toward their centers. The name of this category of star cluster is...

s.

The largest galaxies are giant ellipticals. Many elliptical galaxies are believed to form due to the interaction of galaxies
Interacting galaxy
Interacting galaxies are galaxies whose gravitational fields result in a disturbance of one another. An example of a minor interaction is a satellite galaxy's disturbing the primary galaxy's spiral arms. An example of a major interaction is a galactic collision.-Satellite interaction:A giant...

, resulting in a collision and merger. They can grow to enormous sizes (compared to spiral galaxies, for example), and giant elliptical galaxies are often found near the core of large galaxy clusters. Starburst galaxies are the result of such a galactic collision that can result in the formation of an elliptical galaxy.

Spirals


Spiral galaxies consist of a rotating disk of stars and interstellar medium, along with a central bulge of generally older stars. Extending outward from the bulge
Bulge (astronomy)
In astronomy, a bulge is a tightly packed group of stars within a larger formation. The term almost exclusively refers to the central group of stars found in most spiral galaxies...

 are relatively bright arms. In the Hubble classification scheme, spiral galaxies are listed as type S, followed by a letter (a, b, or c) that indicates the degree of tightness of the spiral arms and the size of the central bulge. An Sa galaxy has tightly wound, poorly defined arms and possesses a relatively large core region. At the other extreme, an Sc galaxy has open, well-defined arms and a small core region. A galaxy with poorly defined arms is sometimes referred to as a flocculent spiral galaxy
Flocculent spiral galaxy
A flocculent spiral galaxy is a type of spiral galaxy, that is the functional opposite of the grand design spiral galaxy. Unlike the well defined spiral architecture of a grand design galaxy, flocculent galaxies are patchy, with discontinuous spiral arms. Approximately 30% of spirals are...

; in contrast to the grand design spiral galaxy
Grand design spiral galaxy
A grand design spiral galaxy is a type of spiral galaxy with prominent and well-defined spiral arms, as opposed to multi-arm and flocculent spirals which have subtler structural features. The spiral arms of a grand design galaxy extend clearly around the galaxy through many radians and can be...

 that has prominent and well-defined spiral arms.

In spiral galaxies, the spiral arms do have the shape of approximate logarithmic spiral
Logarithmic spiral
A logarithmic spiral, equiangular spiral or growth spiral is a special kind of spiral curve which often appears in nature. The logarithmic spiral was first described by Descartes and later extensively investigated by Jacob Bernoulli, who called it Spira mirabilis, "the marvelous...

s, a pattern that can be theoretically shown to result from a disturbance in a uniformly rotating mass of stars. Like the stars, the spiral arms rotate around the center, but they do so with constant angular velocity
Angular velocity
In physics, the angular velocity is a vector quantity which specifies the angular speed of an object and the axis about which the object is rotating. The SI unit of angular velocity is radians per second, although it may be measured in other units such as degrees per second, revolutions per...

. The spiral arms are thought to be areas of high density matter, or "density waves
Density wave theory
Density wave theory or the Lin-Shu density wave theory is a theory proposed by C.C. Lin and Frank Shu in the mid-1960s to explain spiral arm structure of spiral galaxies. Their theory introduces the idea of long-lived quasistatic density waves , which are sections of the galactic disk that have...

". As stars move through an arm, the space velocity of each stellar system is modified by the gravitational force of the higher density. (The velocity returns to normal after the stars depart on the other side of the arm.) This effect is akin to a "wave" of slowdowns moving along a highway full of moving cars. The arms are visible because the high density facilitates star formation, and therefore they harbor many bright and young stars.


A majority of spiral galaxies have a linear, bar-shaped band of stars that extends outward to either side of the core, then merges into the spiral arm structure. In the Hubble classification scheme, these are designated by an SB, followed by a lower-case letter (a, b or c) that indicates the form of the spiral arms (in the same manner as the categorization of normal spiral galaxies). Bars are thought to be temporary structures that can occur as a result of a density wave radiating outward from the core, or else due to a tidal interaction
Galactic tide
A galactic tide is a tidal force experienced by objects subject to the gravitational field of a galaxy such as the Milky Way. Particular areas of interest concerning galactic tides include galactic collisions, the disruption of dwarf or satellite galaxies, and the Milky Way's tidal effect on the...

 with another galaxy. Many barred spiral galaxies are active, possibly as a result of gas being channeled into the core along the arms.

Our own galaxy is a large disk-shaped barred-spiral galaxy about 30 kiloparsecs in diameter and a kiloparsec in thickness. It contains about two hundred billion (2×1011) stars and has a total mass of about six hundred billion (6×1011) times the mass of the Sun.

Other morphologies


Peculiar galaxies are galactic formations that develop unusual properties due to tidal interactions with other galaxies. An example of this is the ring galaxy
Ring galaxy
A ring galaxy is a galaxy with a ring-like appearance. The ring consists of massive, relatively young blue stars, which are extremely bright. The central region contains relatively little luminous matter. Some astronomers believe that ring galaxies are formed when a smaller galaxy passes through...

, which possesses a ring-like structure of stars and interstellar medium surrounding a bare core. A ring galaxy is thought to occur when a smaller galaxy passes through the core of a spiral galaxy. Such an event may have affected the Andromeda Galaxy
Andromeda Galaxy
The Andromeda Galaxy is a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Andromeda. It is also known as Messier 31, M31, or NGC 224, and is often referred to as the Great Andromeda Nebula in older texts. Andromeda is the nearest spiral galaxy to the...

, as it displays a multi-ring-like structure when viewed in infrared
Infrared
Infrared light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength longer than that of visible light, measured from the nominal edge of visible red light at 0.74 micrometres , and extending conventionally to 300 µm...

 radiation.

A lenticular galaxy
Lenticular galaxy
A lenticular galaxy is a type of galaxy which is intermediate between an elliptical galaxy and a spiral galaxy in galaxy morphological classification schemes. Lenticular galaxies are disk galaxies which have used up or lost most of their interstellar matter and therefore have very little ongoing...

 is an intermediate form that has properties of both elliptical and spiral galaxies. These are categorized as Hubble type S0, and they possess ill-defined spiral arms with an elliptical halo of stars. (Barred lenticular galaxies
Barred lenticular galaxy
A barred lenticular galaxy is a lenticular version of a barred spiral galaxy. They have the Hubble type of SB0....

 receive Hubble classification SB0.)

In addition to the classifications mentioned above, there are a number of galaxies that can not be readily classified into an elliptical or spiral morphology. These are categorized as irregular galaxies. An Irr-I galaxy has some structure but does not align cleanly with the Hubble classification scheme. Irr-II galaxies do not possess any structure that resembles a Hubble classification, and may have been disrupted. Nearby examples of (dwarf) irregular galaxies include the Magellanic Clouds
Magellanic Clouds
The two Magellanic Clouds are irregular dwarf galaxies visible in the southern hemisphere, which are members of our Local Group and are orbiting our Milky Way galaxy...

.

Dwarfs



Despite the prominence of large elliptical and spiral galaxies, most galaxies in the universe appear to be dwarf galaxies. These galaxies are relatively small when compared with other galactic formations, being about one hundredth the size of the Milky Way, containing only a few billion stars. Ultra-compact dwarf galaxies have recently been discovered that are only 100 parsecs across.

Many dwarf galaxies may orbit a single larger galaxy; the Milky Way has at least a dozen such satellites, with an estimated 300–500 yet to be discovered. Dwarf galaxies may also be classified as elliptical
Dwarf elliptical galaxy
Dwarf elliptical galaxies, or dEs, are elliptical galaxies that are much smaller than others. They are classified as dE, and are quite common in galaxy groups and clusters, and are usually companions to other galaxies.- Examples :...

, spiral, or irregular
Irregular galaxy
An irregular galaxy is a galaxy that does not have a distinct regular shape, like a spiral or an elliptical galaxy. The shape of an irregular galaxy is uncommon – they do not fall into any of the regular classes of the Hubble sequence, and they are often chaotic in appearance, with neither a...

. Since small dwarf ellipticals bear little resemblance to large ellipticals, they are often called dwarf spheroidal galaxies
Dwarf spheroidal galaxy
Dwarf spheroidal galaxy is a term in astronomy applied to low luminosity galaxies that are companions to the Milky Way and to the similar systems that are companions to the Andromeda Galaxy M31...

 instead.

A study of 27 Milky Way neighbors found that in all dwarf galaxies, the central mass is approximately 10 million solar mass
Solar mass
The solar mass , , is a standard unit of mass in astronomy, used to indicate the masses of other stars and galaxies...

es, regardless of whether the galaxy has thousands or millions of stars. This has led to the suggestion that galaxies are largely formed by dark matter
Dark matter
In astronomy and cosmology, dark matter is matter that neither emits nor scatters light or other electromagnetic radiation, and so cannot be directly detected via optical or radio astronomy...

, and that the minimum size may indicate a form of warm dark matter
Warm dark matter
Warm dark matter is a hypothesized form of dark matter that has properties intermediate between those of hot dark matter and cold dark matter, causing structure formation to occur bottom-up from above their free-streaming scale, and top-down below their free streaming scale. The most common WDM...

 incapable of gravitational coalescence on a smaller scale.

Interacting



The average separation between galaxies within a cluster is a little over an order of magnitude
Order of magnitude
An order of magnitude is the class of scale or magnitude of any amount, where each class contains values of a fixed ratio to the class preceding it. In its most common usage, the amount being scaled is 10 and the scale is the exponent being applied to this amount...

 larger than their diameter. Hence interactions between these galaxies are relatively frequent, and play an important role in their evolution
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...

. Near misses between galaxies result in warping distortions due to tidal interactions
Galactic tide
A galactic tide is a tidal force experienced by objects subject to the gravitational field of a galaxy such as the Milky Way. Particular areas of interest concerning galactic tides include galactic collisions, the disruption of dwarf or satellite galaxies, and the Milky Way's tidal effect on the...

, and may cause some exchange of gas and dust.

Collisions occur when two galaxies pass directly through each other and have sufficient relative momentum not to merge. The stars within these interacting galaxies will typically pass straight through without colliding. However, the gas and dust within the two forms will interact. This can trigger bursts of star formation as the interstellar medium becomes disrupted and compressed. A collision can severely distort the shape of one or both galaxies, forming bars, rings or tail-like structures.

At the extreme of interactions are galactic mergers. In this case the relative momentum of the two galaxies is insufficient to allow the galaxies to pass through each other. Instead, they gradually merge together to form a single, larger galaxy. Mergers can result in significant changes to morphology, as compared to the original galaxies. In the case where one of the galaxies is much more massive, however, the result is known as cannibalism. In this case the larger galaxy will remain relatively undisturbed by the merger, while the smaller galaxy is torn apart. The Milky Way galaxy is currently in the process of cannibalizing the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy
Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy
The Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy is an elliptical loop-shaped satellite galaxy of the Milky Way Galaxy. It consists of four globular clusters, the main cluster being discovered in 1994...

 and the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy
Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy
The Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy is located in the same part of the sky as the constellation Canis Major. The galaxy contains a relatively high percentage of red giant stars, and is thought to contain an estimated one billion stars in all....

.

Starburst



Stars are created within galaxies from a reserve of cold gas that forms into giant molecular cloud
Molecular cloud
A molecular cloud, sometimes called a stellar nursery if star formation is occurring within, is a type of interstellar cloud whose density and size permits the formation of molecules, most commonly molecular hydrogen ....

s. Some galaxies have been observed to form stars at an exceptional rate, known as a starburst. Should they continue to do so, however, they would consume their reserve of gas in a time frame lower than the lifespan of the galaxy. Hence starburst activity usually lasts for only about ten million years, a relatively brief period in the history of a galaxy. Starburst galaxies were more common during the early history of the universe, and, at present, still contribute an estimated 15% to the total star production rate.

Starburst galaxies are characterized by dusty concentrations of gas and the appearance of newly formed stars, including massive stars that ionize the surrounding clouds to create H II region
H II region
An H II region is a large, low-density cloud of partially ionized gas in which star formation has recently taken place. The short-lived, blue stars forged in these regions emit copious amounts of ultraviolet light, ionizing the surrounding gas...

s. These massive stars produce supernova
Supernova
A supernova is a stellar explosion that is more energetic than a nova. It is pronounced with the plural supernovae or supernovas. Supernovae are extremely luminous and cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months...

 explosions, resulting in expanding remnants
Supernova remnant
A supernova remnant is the structure resulting from the explosion of a star in a supernova. The supernova remnant is bounded by an expanding shock wave, and consists of ejected material expanding from the explosion, and the interstellar material it sweeps up and shocks along the way.There are two...

 that interact powerfully with the surrounding gas. These outbursts trigger a chain reaction of star building that spreads throughout the gaseous region. Only when the available gas is nearly consumed or dispersed does the starburst activity come to an end.

Starbursts are often associated with merging or interacting galaxies. The prototype example of such a starburst-forming interaction is M82
Messier 82
Messier 82 is the prototype nearby starburst galaxy about 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major...

, which experienced a close encounter with the larger M81
Messier 81
Messier 81 is a spiral galaxy about 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major. Due to its proximity to Earth, large size and active galactic nucleus Messier 81 (also known as NGC 3031 or Bode's Galaxy) is a spiral galaxy about 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa...

. Irregular galaxies often exhibit spaced knots of starburst activity.

Active nucleus


A portion of the galaxies we can observe are classified as active. That is, a significant portion of the total energy output from the galaxy is emitted by a source other than the stars, dust and interstellar medium
Interstellar medium
In astronomy, the interstellar medium is the matter that exists in the space between the star systems in a galaxy. This matter includes gas in ionic, atomic, and molecular form, dust, and cosmic rays. It fills interstellar space and blends smoothly into the surrounding intergalactic space...

.

The standard model for an active galactic nucleus
Active galactic nucleus
An active galactic nucleus is a compact region at the centre of a galaxy that has a much higher than normal luminosity over at least some portion, and possibly all, of the electromagnetic spectrum. Such excess emission has been observed in the radio, infrared, optical, ultra-violet, X-ray and...

 is based upon an accretion disc
Accretion disc
An accretion disc is a structure formed by diffuse material in orbital motion around a central body. The central body is typically a star. Gravity causes material in the disc to spiral inward towards the central body. Gravitational forces compress the material causing the emission of...

 that forms around a supermassive black hole
Supermassive black hole
A supermassive black hole is the largest type of black hole in a galaxy, in the order of hundreds of thousands to billions of solar masses. Most, and possibly all galaxies, including the Milky Way, are believed to contain supermassive black holes at their centers.Supermassive black holes have...

 (SMBH) at the core region. The radiation from an active galactic nucleus results from the gravitational energy
Gravitational energy
Gravitational energy is the energy associated with the gravitational field. This phrase is found frequently in scientific writings about quasars and other active galaxies.-Newtonian mechanics:...

 of matter as it falls toward the black hole from the disc. In about 10% of these objects, a diametrically opposed pair of energetic jets ejects particles from the core at velocities close to the speed of light
Speed of light
The speed of light in vacuum, usually denoted by c, is a physical constant important in many areas of physics. Its value is 299,792,458 metres per second, a figure that is exact since the length of the metre is defined from this constant and the international standard for time...

. The mechanism for producing these jets is still not well understood.

Active galaxies that emit high-energy radiation in the form of x-ray
X-ray
X-radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation. X-rays have a wavelength in the range of 0.01 to 10 nanometers, corresponding to frequencies in the range 30 petahertz to 30 exahertz and energies in the range 120 eV to 120 keV. They are shorter in wavelength than UV rays and longer than gamma...

s are classified as Seyfert galaxies
Seyfert galaxy
Seyfert galaxies are a class of galaxies with nuclei that produce spectral line emission from highly ionized gas, named after Carl Keenan Seyfert, the astronomer who first identified the class in 1943...

 or quasar
Quasar
A quasi-stellar radio source is a very energetic and distant active galactic nucleus. Quasars are extremely luminous and were first identified as being high redshift sources of electromagnetic energy, including radio waves and visible light, that were point-like, similar to stars, rather than...

s, depending on the luminosity. Blazar
Blazar
A blazar is a very compact quasar associated with a presumed supermassive black hole at the center of an active, giant elliptical galaxy...

s are believed to be an active galaxy with a relativistic jet
Relativistic jet
Relativistic jets are extremely powerful jets of plasma which emerge from presumed massive objects at the centers of some active galaxies, notably radio galaxies and quasars. Their lengths can reach several thousand or even hundreds of thousands of light years...

 that is pointed in the direction of the Earth. A radio galaxy
Radio galaxy
Radio galaxies and their relatives, radio-loud quasars and blazars, are types of active galaxy that are very luminous at radio wavelengths, with luminosities up to 1039 W between 10 MHz and 100 GHz. The radio emission is due to the synchrotron process...

 emits radio frequencies from relativistic jets. A unified model of these types of active galaxies explains their differences based on the viewing angle of the observer.

Possibly related to active galactic nuclei (as well as starburst
Starburst (astronomy)
In astronomy, starburst is a generic term to describe a region of space with an abnormally high rate of star formation. It is reserved for truly unusual objects....

 regions) are low-ionization nuclear emission-line region
Low-ionization nuclear emission-line region
A low-ionization nuclear emission-line region is a type of galactic nucleus that is defined by its spectral line emission. The spectra typically include line emission from weakly ionized or neutral atoms, such as O, O+, N+, and S+. Conversely, the spectral line emission from strongly ionized...

s (LINERs). The emission from LINER-type galaxies is dominated by weakly ion
Ion
An ion is an atom or molecule in which the total number of electrons is not equal to the total number of protons, giving it a net positive or negative electrical charge. The name was given by physicist Michael Faraday for the substances that allow a current to pass between electrodes in a...

ized elements. Approximately one-third of nearby galaxies are classified as containing LINER nuclei.

Formation and evolution



The study of galactic formation and evolution attempts to answer questions regarding how galaxies formed and their evolutionary path over the history of the universe. Some theories in this field have now become widely accepted, but it is still an active area in astrophysics
Astrophysics
Astrophysics is the branch of astronomy that deals with the physics of the universe, including the physical properties of celestial objects, as well as their interactions and behavior...

.

Formation


Current cosmological models of the early Universe are based on the Big Bang
Big Bang
The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that explains the early development of the Universe. According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state which expanded rapidly. This rapid expansion caused the young Universe to cool and resulted in...

 theory. About 300,000 years after this event, atoms of hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

 and helium
Helium
Helium is the chemical element with atomic number 2 and an atomic weight of 4.002602, which is represented by the symbol He. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas that heads the noble gas group in the periodic table...

 began to form, in an event called recombination
Recombination (cosmology)
In cosmology, recombination refers to the epoch at which charged electrons and protons first became bound to form electrically neutral hydrogen atoms.Note that the term recombination is a misnomer, considering that it represents the first time that electrically neutral hydrogen formed. After the...

. Nearly all the hydrogen was neutral (non-ionized) and readily absorbed light, and no stars had yet formed. As a result this period has been called the "Dark Ages". It was from density fluctuations (or anisotropic
Anisotropy
Anisotropy is the property of being directionally dependent, as opposed to isotropy, which implies identical properties in all directions. It can be defined as a difference, when measured along different axes, in a material's physical or mechanical properties An example of anisotropy is the light...

 irregularities) in this primordial matter that larger structures
Structure formation
Structure formation refers to a fundamental problem in physical cosmology. The universe, as is now known from observations of the cosmic microwave background radiation, began in a hot, dense, nearly uniform state approximately 13.7 Gyr ago...

 began to appear. As a result, masses of baryon
Baryon
A baryon is a composite particle made up of three quarks . Baryons and mesons belong to the hadron family, which are the quark-based particles...

ic matter started to condense within cold dark matter
Cold dark matter
Cold dark matter is the improvement of the big bang theory that contains the additional assumption that most of the matter in the Universe consists of material that cannot be observed by its electromagnetic radiation and whose constituent particles move slowly...

 halos. These primordial structures would eventually become the galaxies we see today.

Evidence for the early appearance of galaxies was found in 2006, when it was discovered that the galaxy IOK-1
IOK-1
IOK-1 is a distant galaxy in Coma Berenices. When discovered in 2006, it was the oldest and most distant galaxy ever found, at redshift 6.96....

 has an unusually high redshift
Redshift
In physics , redshift happens when light seen coming from an object is proportionally increased in wavelength, or shifted to the red end of the spectrum...

 of 6.96, corresponding to just 750 million years after the Big Bang and making it the most distant and primordial galaxy yet seen. While some scientists have claimed other objects (such as Abell 1835 IR1916
Galaxy Abell 1835 IR1916
Abell 1835 IR1916 was a candidate for being the most distant galaxy ever observed. It was claimed to lie behind the galaxy cluster Abell 1835, in the Virgo constellation...

) have higher redshifts (and therefore are seen in an earlier stage of the Universe's evolution), IOK-1's age and composition have been more reliably established. The existence of such early protogalaxies
Protogalaxy
In physical cosmology, a protogalaxy, which could also be called a "primeval galaxy", is a cloud of gas which is forming into a galaxy. It is believed that the rate of star formation, during this period of galactic evolution, will determine whether a galaxy is a spiral or elliptical galaxy; a...

 suggests that they must have grown in the so-called "Dark Ages".

The detailed process by which such early galaxy formation occurred is a major open question in astronomy. Theories could be divided into two categories: top-down and bottom-up. In top-down theories (such as the Eggen–Lynden-Bell–Sandage [ELS] model), protogalaxies form in a large-scale simultaneous collapse lasting about one hundred million years. In bottom-up theories (such as the Searle-Zinn [SZ] model), small structures such as globular cluster
Globular cluster
A globular cluster is a spherical collection of stars that orbits a galactic core as a satellite. Globular clusters are very tightly bound by gravity, which gives them their spherical shapes and relatively high stellar densities toward their centers. The name of this category of star cluster is...

s form first, and then a number of such bodies accrete to form a larger galaxy.

Once protogalaxies began to form and contract, the first halo star
Halo Star
Halo Star is the ninth studio album by the Darkwave band Black Tape for a Blue Girl. It was released in 2004 by Projekt Records. It includes one of the band's most popular songs, "Knock Three Times," which later appeared on the popular 2005 Projekt Presents: A Dark Cabaret compilation, remixed as...

s (called Population III stars
Metallicity
In astronomy and physical cosmology, the metallicity of an object is the proportion of its matter made up of chemical elements other than hydrogen and helium...

) appeared within them. These were composed almost entirely of hydrogen and helium, and may have been massive. If so, these huge stars would have quickly consumed their supply of fuel and became supernova
Supernova
A supernova is a stellar explosion that is more energetic than a nova. It is pronounced with the plural supernovae or supernovas. Supernovae are extremely luminous and cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months...

e, releasing heavy elements into the interstellar medium
Interstellar medium
In astronomy, the interstellar medium is the matter that exists in the space between the star systems in a galaxy. This matter includes gas in ionic, atomic, and molecular form, dust, and cosmic rays. It fills interstellar space and blends smoothly into the surrounding intergalactic space...

. This first generation of stars re-ionized the surrounding neutral hydrogen, creating expanding bubbles of space through which light could readily travel.

Evolution


Within a billion years of a galaxy's formation, key structures begin to appear. Globular cluster
Globular cluster
A globular cluster is a spherical collection of stars that orbits a galactic core as a satellite. Globular clusters are very tightly bound by gravity, which gives them their spherical shapes and relatively high stellar densities toward their centers. The name of this category of star cluster is...

s, the central supermassive black hole, and a galactic bulge
Bulge (astronomy)
In astronomy, a bulge is a tightly packed group of stars within a larger formation. The term almost exclusively refers to the central group of stars found in most spiral galaxies...

 of metal-poor Population II stars
Metallicity
In astronomy and physical cosmology, the metallicity of an object is the proportion of its matter made up of chemical elements other than hydrogen and helium...

 form. The creation of a supermassive black hole appears to play a key role in actively regulating the growth of galaxies by limiting the total amount of additional matter added. During this early epoch, galaxies undergo a major burst of star formation.

During the following two billion years, the accumulated matter settles into a galactic disc
Disc (galaxy)
A disc is a component of disc galaxies, such as spiral galaxies, or lenticular galaxies.The galactic disc is the plane in which the spirals, bars and discs of disc galaxies exist. Galaxy discs tend to have more gas and dust, and younger stars than galactic bulges, or galactic haloes.The galactic...

. A galaxy will continue to absorb infalling material from high-velocity clouds
Interstellar cloud
Interstellar cloud is the generic name given to an accumulation of gas, plasma and dust in our and other galaxies. Put differently, an interstellar cloud is a denser-than-average region of the interstellar medium. Depending on the density, size and temperature of a given cloud, the hydrogen in it...

 and dwarf galaxies
Dwarf galaxy
A dwarf galaxy is a small galaxy composed of up to several billion stars, a small number compared to our own Milky Way's 200-400 billion stars...

 throughout its life. This matter is mostly hydrogen and helium. The cycle of stellar birth and death slowly increases the abundance of heavy elements, eventually allowing the formation of planet
Planet
A planet is a celestial body orbiting a star or stellar remnant that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, is not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion, and has cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals.The term planet is ancient, with ties to history, science,...

s.

The evolution of galaxies can be significantly affected by interactions and collisions. Mergers of galaxies were common during the early epoch, and the majority of galaxies were peculiar in morphology. Given the distances between the stars, the great majority of stellar systems in colliding galaxies will be unaffected. However, gravitational stripping of the interstellar gas and dust that makes up the spiral arms produces a long train of stars known as tidal tails. Examples of these formations can be seen in NGC 4676 or the Antennae Galaxies
Antennae Galaxies
The Antennae Galaxies are a pair of interacting galaxies in the constellation Corvus. They are currently going through a phase of starburst. They were discovered by William Herschel in 1785...

.

As an example of such an interaction, the Milky Way galaxy and the nearby Andromeda Galaxy are moving toward each other at about 130 km/s
Metre per second
Metre per second is an SI derived unit of both speed and velocity , defined by distance in metres divided by time in seconds....

, and—depending upon the lateral movements—the two may collide in about five to six billion years. Although the Milky Way has never collided with a galaxy as large as Andromeda before, evidence of past collisions of the Milky Way with smaller dwarf galaxies is increasing.

Such large-scale interactions are rare. As time passes, mergers of two systems of equal size become less common. Most bright galaxies have remained fundamentally unchanged for the last few billion years, and the net rate of star formation probably also peaked approximately ten billion years ago.

Future trends


At present, most star formation occurs in smaller galaxies where cool gas is not so depleted. Spiral galaxies, like the Milky Way, only produce new generations of stars as long as they have dense molecular cloud
Molecular cloud
A molecular cloud, sometimes called a stellar nursery if star formation is occurring within, is a type of interstellar cloud whose density and size permits the formation of molecules, most commonly molecular hydrogen ....

s of interstellar hydrogen in their spiral arms. Elliptical galaxies are already largely devoid of this gas, and so form no new stars. The supply of star-forming material is finite; once stars have converted the available supply of hydrogen into heavier elements, new star formation will come to an end.

The current era of star formation is expected to continue for up to one hundred billion years, and then the "stellar age" will wind down after about ten trillion to one hundred trillion years (1013–1014 years), as the smallest, longest-lived stars in our astrosphere, tiny red dwarf
Red dwarf
According to the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, a red dwarf star is a small and relatively cool star, of the main sequence, either late K or M spectral type....

s, begin to fade. At the end of the stellar age, galaxies will be composed of compact objects
Compact star
In astronomy, the term compact star is used to refer collectively to white dwarfs, neutron stars, other exotic dense stars, and black holes. These objects are all small for their mass...

: brown dwarf
Brown dwarf
Brown dwarfs are sub-stellar objects which are too low in mass to sustain hydrogen-1 fusion reactions in their cores, which is characteristic of stars on the main sequence. Brown dwarfs have fully convective surfaces and interiors, with no chemical differentiation by depth...

s, white dwarf
White dwarf
A white dwarf, also called a degenerate dwarf, is a small star composed mostly of electron-degenerate matter. They are very dense; a white dwarf's mass is comparable to that of the Sun and its volume is comparable to that of the Earth. Its faint luminosity comes from the emission of stored...

s that are cooling or cold ("black dwarf
Black dwarf
A black dwarf is a hypothetical stellar remnant, created when a white dwarf becomes sufficiently cool to no longer emit significant heat or light...

s"), neutron star
Neutron star
A neutron star is a type of stellar remnant that can result from the gravitational collapse of a massive star during a Type II, Type Ib or Type Ic supernova event. Such stars are composed almost entirely of neutrons, which are subatomic particles without electrical charge and with a slightly larger...

s, and black hole
Black hole
A black hole is a region of spacetime from which nothing, not even light, can escape. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass will deform spacetime to form a black hole. Around a black hole there is a mathematically defined surface called an event horizon that...

s. Eventually, as a result of gravitational relaxation
Relaxation time
In the physical sciences, relaxation usually means the return of a perturbed system into equilibrium.Each relaxation process can be characterized by a relaxation time τ...

, all stars will either fall into central supermassive black holes or be flung into intergalactic space as a result of collisions.

Larger-scale structures



Deep sky surveys show that galaxies are often found in relatively close association with other galaxies. Solitary galaxies that have not significantly interacted with another galaxy of comparable mass during the past billion years are relatively scarce. Only about 5% of the galaxies surveyed have been found to be truly isolated; however, these isolated formations may have interacted and even merged with other galaxies in the past, and may still be orbited by smaller, satellite galaxies. Isolated galaxiesThe term "field galaxy" is sometimes used to mean an isolated galaxy, although the same term is also used to describe galaxies that do not belong to a cluster but may be a member of a group of galaxies. can produce stars at a higher rate than normal, as their gas is not being stripped by other nearby galaxies.

On the largest scale, the universe is continually expanding, resulting in an average increase in the separation between individual galaxies (see Hubble's law
Hubble's law
Hubble's law is the name for the astronomical observation in physical cosmology that: all objects observed in deep space are found to have a doppler shift observable relative velocity to Earth, and to each other; and that this doppler-shift-measured velocity, of various galaxies receding from...

). Associations of galaxies can overcome this expansion on a local scale through their mutual gravitational attraction. These associations formed early in the universe, as clumps of dark matter pulled their respective galaxies together. Nearby groups later merged to form larger-scale clusters. This on-going merger process (as well as an influx of infalling gas) heats the inter-galactic gas within a cluster to very high temperatures, reaching 30–100 megakelvins. About 70–80% of the mass in a cluster is in the form of dark matter, with 10–30% consisting of this heated gas and the remaining few percent of the matter in the form of galaxies.
Most galaxies in the universe are gravitationally bound to a number of other galaxies. These form a fractal
Fractal
A fractal has been defined as "a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is a reduced-size copy of the whole," a property called self-similarity...

-like hierarchy of clustered structures, with the smallest such associations being termed groups. A group of galaxies is the most common type of galactic cluster, and these formations contain a majority of the galaxies (as well as most of the baryon
Baryon
A baryon is a composite particle made up of three quarks . Baryons and mesons belong to the hadron family, which are the quark-based particles...

ic mass) in the universe. To remain gravitationally bound to such a group, each member galaxy must have a sufficiently low velocity to prevent it from escaping (see Virial theorem). If there is insufficient kinetic energy
Kinetic energy
The kinetic energy of an object is the energy which it possesses due to its motion.It is defined as the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its stated velocity. Having gained this energy during its acceleration, the body maintains this kinetic energy unless its speed changes...

, however, the group may evolve into a smaller number of galaxies through mergers.

Larger structures containing many thousands of galaxies packed into an area a few megaparsecs across are called clusters. Clusters of galaxies are often dominated by a single giant elliptical galaxy, known as the brightest cluster galaxy
Brightest cluster galaxy
Brightest cluster galaxy is defined as the brightest galaxy in a cluster of galaxies. BCGs include the most massive galaxies in the universe. They are generally elliptical galaxies which lie close to the geometric and kinematical center of their host galaxy cluster, hence at the bottom of the...

, which, over time, tidally
Tidal force
The tidal force is a secondary effect of the force of gravity and is responsible for the tides. It arises because the gravitational force per unit mass exerted on one body by a second body is not constant across its diameter, the side nearest to the second being more attracted by it than the side...

 destroys its satellite galaxies and adds their mass to its own.

Supercluster
Supercluster
Superclusters are large groups of smaller galaxy groups and clusters and are among the largest known structures of the cosmos. They are so large that they are not gravitationally bound and, consequently, partake in the Hubble expansion.-Existence:...

s contain tens of thousands of galaxies, which are found in clusters, groups and sometimes individually. At the supercluster scale, galaxies are arranged into sheets and filaments surrounding vast empty voids. Above this scale, the universe appears to be isotropic
Isotropy
Isotropy is uniformity in all orientations; it is derived from the Greek iso and tropos . Precise definitions depend on the subject area. Exceptions, or inequalities, are frequently indicated by the prefix an, hence anisotropy. Anisotropy is also used to describe situations where properties vary...

 and homogeneous.

The Milky Way galaxy is a member of an association named the Local Group
Local Group
The Local Group is the group of galaxies that includes Earth's galaxy, the Milky Way. The group comprises more than 30 galaxies , with its gravitational center located somewhere between the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy...

, a relatively small group of galaxies that has a diameter of approximately one megaparsec. The Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy are the two brightest galaxies within the group; many of the other member galaxies are dwarf companions of these two galaxies. The Local Group itself is a part of a cloud-like structure within the Virgo Supercluster
Virgo Supercluster
The Virgo Supercluster or Local Supercluster is the irregular supercluster that contains the Virgo Cluster in addition to the Local Group, which in turn contains the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies. At least 100 galaxy groups and clusters are located within its diameter of 33 megaparsecs...

, a large, extended structure of groups and clusters of galaxies centered around the Virgo Cluster
Virgo Cluster
The Virgo Cluster is a cluster of galaxies whose center is 53.8 ± 0.3 Mly away in the constellation Virgo. Comprising approximately 1300 member galaxies, the cluster forms the heart of the larger Local Supercluster, of which the Local Group is an outlying member...

.

Multi-wavelength observation


After galaxies external to the Milky Way were found to exist, initial observations were made mostly using visible light
Visible spectrum
The visible spectrum is the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to the human eye. Electromagnetic radiation in this range of wavelengths is called visible light or simply light. A typical human eye will respond to wavelengths from about 390 to 750 nm. In terms of...

. The peak radiation of most stars lies here, so the observation of the stars that form galaxies has been a major component of optical astronomy. It is also a favorable portion of the spectrum for observing ionized H II region
H II region
An H II region is a large, low-density cloud of partially ionized gas in which star formation has recently taken place. The short-lived, blue stars forged in these regions emit copious amounts of ultraviolet light, ionizing the surrounding gas...

s, and for examining the distribution of dusty arms.

The dust
Cosmic dust
Cosmic dust is a type of dust composed of particles in space which are a few molecules to 0.1 µm in size. Cosmic dust can be further distinguished by its astronomical location; for example: intergalactic dust, interstellar dust, interplanetary dust and circumplanetary dust .In our own Solar...

 present in the interstellar medium is opaque to visual light. It is more transparent to far-infrared
Far infrared astronomy
Far-infrared astronomy is the branch of astronomy and astrophysics that deals with objects visible in far-infrared radiation ....

, which can be used to observe the interior regions of giant molecular clouds and galactic cores in great detail. Infrared is also used to observe distant, red-shifted
Redshift
In physics , redshift happens when light seen coming from an object is proportionally increased in wavelength, or shifted to the red end of the spectrum...

 galaxies that were formed much earlier in the history of the universe. Water vapor and carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

 absorb a number of useful portions of the infrared spectrum, so high-altitude or space-based telescopes are used for infrared astronomy
Infrared astronomy
Infrared astronomy is the branch of astronomy and astrophysics that studies astronomical objects visible in infrared radiation. The wavelength of infrared light ranges from 0.75 to 300 micrometers...

.

The first non-visual study of galaxies, particularly active galaxies, was made using radio frequencies
Radio astronomy
Radio astronomy is a subfield of astronomy that studies celestial objects at radio frequencies. The initial detection of radio waves from an astronomical object was made in the 1930s, when Karl Jansky observed radiation coming from the Milky Way. Subsequent observations have identified a number of...

. The atmosphere is nearly transparent to radio between 5 MHz
Hertz
The hertz is the SI unit of frequency defined as the number of cycles per second of a periodic phenomenon. One of its most common uses is the description of the sine wave, particularly those used in radio and audio applications....

 and 30 GHz. (The ionosphere
Ionosphere
The ionosphere is a part of the upper atmosphere, comprising portions of the mesosphere, thermosphere and exosphere, distinguished because it is ionized by solar radiation. It plays an important part in atmospheric electricity and forms the inner edge of the magnetosphere...

 blocks signals below this range.) Large radio interferometers
Interferometry
Interferometry refers to a family of techniques in which electromagnetic waves are superimposed in order to extract information about the waves. An instrument used to interfere waves is called an interferometer. Interferometry is an important investigative technique in the fields of astronomy,...

 have been used to map the active jets emitted from active nuclei. Radio telescope
Radio telescope
A radio telescope is a form of directional radio antenna used in radio astronomy. The same types of antennas are also used in tracking and collecting data from satellites and space probes...

s can also be used to observe neutral hydrogen (via 21 centimetre radiation
Hydrogen line
The hydrogen line, 21 centimeter line or HI line refers to the electromagnetic radiation spectral line that is created by a change in the energy state of neutral hydrogen atoms. This electromagnetic radiation is at the precise frequency of 1420.40575177 MHz, which is equivalent to the vacuum...

), including, potentially, the non-ionized matter in the early universe that later collapsed to form galaxies.

Ultraviolet
UV astronomy
Ultraviolet astronomy is generally used to refer to observations of electromagnetic radiation at ultraviolet wavelengths between approximately 10 and 320 nanometres; shorter wavelengths—higher energy photons—are studied by X-ray astronomy and gamma ray astronomy...

 and X-ray telescopes
X-ray astronomy
X-ray astronomy is an observational branch of astronomy which deals with the study of X-ray observation and detection from astronomical objects. X-radiation is absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere, so instruments to detect X-rays must be taken to high altitude by balloons, sounding rockets, and...

 can observe highly energetic galactic phenomena. An ultraviolet flare was observed when a star in a distant galaxy was torn apart from the tidal forces of a black hole. The distribution of hot gas in galactic clusters can be mapped by X-rays. The existence of super-massive black holes at the cores of galaxies was confirmed through X-ray astronomy.

See also



  • Galactic orientation
    Galactic orientation
    Galactic clusters are gravitationally bound large-scale structures of multiple galaxies. The evolution of these aggregates is determined by time and manner of formation and the process of how their structures and constituents have been changing with time. Gamow and Weizscker showed that the...

  • List of galaxies
  • List of nearest galaxies
  • Luminous infrared galaxy
    Luminous infrared galaxy
    A luminous infrared galaxy , is a galactic body whose defining characteristic is in emitting more than 1011 solar luminosities in the far-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum. A more luminous system, emitting more than 1012 solar luminosities in the far-infrared, is called ultraluminous...

  • Supermassive black hole
    Supermassive black hole
    A supermassive black hole is the largest type of black hole in a galaxy, in the order of hundreds of thousands to billions of solar masses. Most, and possibly all galaxies, including the Milky Way, are believed to contain supermassive black holes at their centers.Supermassive black holes have...

  • Timeline of knowledge about galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and large-scale structure
    Timeline of knowledge about galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and large-scale structure
    Timeline of galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and large-scale structure of the cosmos-Pre-20th Century:* 400s BC — Democritus proposes that the bright band in the night sky known as the Milky Way might consist of stars,...

  • Galaxy formation and evolution
    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...

  • Dark galaxy
    Dark galaxy
    A dark galaxy is a hypothetical galaxy composed of dark matter. Dark galaxies receive their name because they have no detectable stars and are theoretically invisible...


External links