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A direct test of density wave theory in a grand-design spiral galaxy

Peterken, Thomas G.; Merrifield, Michael R.; Arag�n-Salamanca, Alfonso; Drory, Niv; Krawczyk, Coleman M.; Masters, Karen L.; Weijmans, Anne-Marie; Westfall, Kyle B.

A direct test of density wave theory in a grand-design spiral galaxy Thumbnail


Thomas G. Peterken

Niv Drory

Coleman M. Krawczyk

Karen L. Masters

Anne-Marie Weijmans

Kyle B. Westfall


The exact nature of the arms of spiral galaxies is still an open question1. It has been widely assumed that spiral arms in galaxies with two distinct symmetrical arms are the products of density waves that propagate around the disk, with the spiral arms being visibly enhanced by the star formation that is triggered as the passing wave compresses gas in the galaxy disk. Such a persistent wave would propagate with an approximately constant angular speed, its pattern speed. The quasi-stationary density wave theory can be tested by measuring this quantity and showing that it does not vary with radius in the galaxy. Unfortunately, this measurement is difficult because omegaP is only indirectly connected to observables such as the stellar rotation speed. Here, we use the detailed information on stellar populations of the grand-design spiral galaxy UGC 3825, extracted from spectral mapping, to measure the offset between young stars of a known age and the spiral arm in which they formed, allowing the first direct measure of omegaP at a range of radii. The offset in this galaxy is found to be as expected for a pattern speed that varies little with radius, indicating consistency with a quasi-stationary density wave, and lending credence to this new method.


Peterken, T. G., Merrifield, M. R., Aragón-Salamanca, A., Drory, N., Krawczyk, C. M., Masters, K. L., …Westfall, K. B. (2019). A direct test of density wave theory in a grand-design spiral galaxy. Nature Astronomy, 3(2), 178-182.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 5, 2018
Online Publication Date Nov 12, 2018
Publication Date Feb 1, 2019
Deposit Date Nov 7, 2018
Publicly Available Date May 13, 2019
Journal Nature Astronomy
Electronic ISSN 2397-3366
Publisher Nature Research
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 3
Issue 2
Pages 178-182
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Received: 18 June 2018; Accepted: 5 October 2018; First Online: 12 November 2018; : The authors declare no competing interests.


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