A new model for gravitational potential perturbations in disks of spiral galaxies. An application to our Galaxy
Instituto de Astronomia, Geofísica e Ciências Atmosféricas, Universidade de São Paulo, Cidade Universitária, São Paulo, SP, Brazil
Received: 6 June 2012
Accepted: 12 December 2012
Aims. We propose a new, more realistic description of the perturbed gravitational potential of spiral galaxies, with spiral arms having Gaussian-shaped groove profiles. The aim is to reach a self-consistent description of the spiral structure, that is, one in which an initial potential perturbation generates, by means of the stellar orbits, spiral arms with a profile similar to that of the imposed perturbation. Self-consistency is a condition for having long-lived structures.
Methods. Using the new perturbed potential, we investigate the stable stellar orbits in galactic disks for galaxies with no bar or with only a weak bar. The model is applied to our Galaxy by making use of the axisymmetric component of the potential computed from the Galactic rotation curve, in addition to other input parameters similar to those of our Galaxy. The influence of the bulge mass on the stellar orbits in the inner regions of a disk is also investigated.
Results. The new description offers the advantage of easy control of the parameters of the Gaussian profile of its potential. We compute the density contrast between arm and inter-arm regions. We find a range of values for the perturbation amplitude from 400 to 800 km2 s-2 kpc-1, which implies an approximate maximum ratio of the tangential force to the axisymmetric force between 3% and 6%. Good self-consistency of arm shapes is obtained between the Inner Lindblad resonance (ILR) and the 4:1 resonance. Near the 4:1 resonance the response density starts to deviate from the imposed logarithmic spiral form. This creates bifurcations that appear as short arms. Therefore the deviation from a perfect logarithmic spiral in galaxies can be understood as a natural effect of the 4:1 resonance. Beyond the 4:1 resonance we find closed orbits that have similarities with the arms observed in our Galaxy. In regions near the center, elongated stellar orbits appear naturally, in the presence of a massive bulge, without imposing any bar-shaped potential, but only extending the spiral perturbation a little inward of the ILR. This suggests that a bar is formed with a half-size ~3 kpc by a mechanism similar to that of the spiral arms.
Conclusions. The potential energy perturbation that we adopted represents an important step in the direction of self-consistency, compared to previous sine function descriptions of the potential. In addition, our model produces a realistic description of the spiral structure, which is able to explain several details that were not yet understood.
Key words: Galaxy: kinematics and dynamics / Galaxy: structure / galaxies: spiral / galaxies: bulges
© ESO, 2013