Grand design spiral galaxy

A Spitzer Space Telescope image of Messier 81, a grand design spiral.

A grand design spiral galaxy is a type of spiral galaxy with prominent and well-defined spiral arms, as opposed to multi-arm and flocculent spirals which have subtler structural features. The spiral arms of a grand design galaxy extend clearly around the galaxy through many radians and can be observed over a large fraction of the galaxy's radius. As of 2002, approximately 10 percent of all currently known spiral galaxies are classified as grand design type spirals,[1] including M51, M74, M81, M83, and M101.

Origin of structure

Density wave theory is the preferred explanation for the well-defined structure of grand design spirals.[2] According to this theory, the spiral arms are created inside density waves that turn around the galaxy at different speeds from the stars in the galaxy's disk. Stars and gas are clumped in these dense regions due to gravitational attraction towards the dense material, though their location in the spiral arm may not be permanent. When they come close to the spiral arm, they are pulled toward the dense material by the force of gravity; and as they travel through the arm, they are slowed from exiting by the same gravitational pull. This causes the gas in particular to clump in the dense regions, which encourages gas clouds to collapse, producing star formation.


  1. ^ Mihos, Chris (2002-01-11), Spiral Structure, retrieved 2007-05-30
  2. ^ Masters, Karen (September 2002), What is the Origin of Spiral Structure in Galaxies, archived from the original on 2007-06-09, retrieved 2007-05-30