The Hubble tuning fork - classification of galaxies

Galaxies are very important fundamental building blocks of the Universe. Some are simple, while others are very complex in structure. As one of the first steps towards a coherent theory of galaxy evolution, the American astronomer Edwin Hubble, developed a classification scheme of galaxies in 1926. Although this scheme, also known as the Hubble tuning fork diagram, is now considered somewhat too simple, the basic ideas still hold.

The diagram is roughly divided into two parts: elliptical galaxies (ellipticals) and spiral galaxies (spirals). Hubble gave the ellipticals numbers from zero to seven, which characterize the ellipticity of the galaxy - "E0" is almost round, "E7" is very elliptical.

The spirals were assigned letters from "a" to "c," which characterize the compactness of their spiral arms. "Sa" spirals, for example, are tightly wound whereas "Sc" spirals are more loosely wound. Also it is worth noting that the sizes of the round central regions in spirals - the so-called bulges - increase in size the more tightly the spiral arms are wound. There are indications pointing to a very close connection between the bulges of certain galaxies (Hubble types "S0", "Sa" and "Sb") and elliptical galaxies. They may very well be similar objects.

In fact the spiral galaxies are sub-divided into two groups - normal spirals and barred spirals. The most important difference between these two groups is the bar of stars that runs through the central bulge in barred spirals. The spiral arms in barred spirals usually start at the end of the bar instead of from the bulge. Barred spirals have a "B" in their classification. An "SBc" is thus a loosely wound barred spiral galaxy.

"S0," or lenticular galaxies, are in the transition zones between ellipticals and spirals and bridge these two types.

Hubble found that some galaxies are difficult to put in the context of the tuning fork diagram. Those include irregular galaxies which have odd shapes, dwarf galaxies which are very small, and giant elliptical galaxies which are very large elliptical galaxies residing in the centers of some clusters of galaxies.



About the Image

Release date:6 October 1999, 15:00
Related releases:heic1315, heic9902
Size:850 x 700 px

About the Object

Name:Hubble Galaxy Classification
Type:Unspecified : Galaxy

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