Monday, July 9, 2012

The Trenches of Discovery: Why do galaxies rotate?

Galaxies rotate, every child knows that. Looking at the images of grand spiral galaxies it is quite suggestive to think how all the stars and gas that make up a galaxy all move in a more or less orderly fashion about the galaxy's centre. However, when we think about mechanisms through which galaxies can acquire angular momentum the matter seems very obscure: how do they start rotating in the first place? 

The formation of cosmic structure, including galaxies and the larger clusters and superclusters in which they are embedded, is a fluid mechanical phenomenon, where gravity is the only force acting on the  distribution of matter on large scales. It is in fact gravity that amplified the tiny fluctuations present in the primordial distribution of matter that filled the early Universe (matter here means mostly cold dark matter) and caused them to evolve into the large-scale structure that we observe in the present Universe. These tiny fluctuations grew by self-gravity: a region in the matter distribution that is slightly denser than its surroundings generates a gravitational pull and accumulates more matter, hence its density increases with time.

Read the rest at The Trenches of Discovery