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Simulating a galaxy without a computer

19 Mar 2020, 03:41 UTC
Simulating a galaxy without a computer
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The cosmic web of galaxies as seen by SDSS.

A galaxy is a complicated place. Your average spiral galaxy, like the Milky Way, has a few hundred billion stars, each moving in its own complicated orbit. Around the stars and in the space in between, there is gas and dust. In addition to contributing to the gravitational forces in the galaxy, the gas can form clouds that drive star formation. Indeed, the eponymous spiral arms of a spiral galaxy are pressure waves in the gas, causing star formation and a unmistakable pattern of bright young (and thus “blue”) stars that stand out among the older (“red”) stars. As stars go through their lives, the gas around them can be driven by the winds from supernovae, pulling other galactic material around in its gravitational wake.Finally, there is the dark matter, equal or greater in mass than all the visible material in a galaxy. Without the dark matter, stars in the outer reaches of a spiral galaxy would fly off into intergalactic space, as the gravitational pull of the stars and gas within a galaxy are by themselves ...

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