Gravitational instability

Last updated

The key idea in explaining the way in which structures evolve in the universe is gravitational instability. [1] If material is to be brought together to form structures, then a long-range force is required, and gravity is the only known possibility. (Although electromagnetism is a long-range force, charge neutrality demands that its influence is unimportant on large scales.) The basic picture is as follows.

Universe All of space and time and their contents

TheUniverse is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, galaxies, and all other forms of matter and energy. While the spatial size of the entire Universe is unknown, it is possible to measure the size of the observable universe. In various multiverse hypotheses, auniverse is one of many causally disconnected constituent parts of a larger multiverse, which itself comprises all of space and time and its contents, or those with differing physical constants, or both.

Gravity Curvature of spacetime attracting uneven distribution of masses together

Gravity, or gravitation, is a natural phenomenon by which all things with mass or energy—including planets, stars, galaxies, and even light—are brought toward one another. On Earth, gravity gives weight to physical objects, and the Moon's gravity causes the ocean tides. The gravitational attraction of the original gaseous matter present in the Universe caused it to begin coalescing, forming stars – and for the stars to group together into galaxies – so gravity is responsible for many of the large-scale structures in the Universe. Gravity has an infinite range, although its effects become increasingly weaker on farther objects.

Electromagnetism branch of science concerned with the phenomena of electricity and magnetism

Electromagnetism is a branch of physics involving the study of the electromagnetic force, a type of physical interaction that occurs between electrically charged particles. The electromagnetic force usually exhibits electromagnetic fields such as electric fields, magnetic fields, and light, and is one of the four fundamental interactions in nature. The other three fundamental interactions are the strong interaction, the weak interaction, and gravitation. At high energy the weak force and electromagnetic force are unified as a single electroweak force.

Suppose that at some initial time, say decoupling, there are small irregularities in the distribution of matter. Those regions with more matter will exert a greater gravitational force on their neighboring regions, and hence tend to draw in the surrounding material. This extra material makes them even more dense than before, increasing their gravitational attraction and further enhancing their pull on their neighbors. An irregular distribution of matter is therefore unstable under the influence of gravity, becoming more and more irregular as time goes by.

Decoupling (cosmology) period in the development of the universe when different types of particles fall out of thermal equilibrium with each other

In cosmology, decoupling refers to a period in the development of the universe when different types of particles fall out of thermal equilibrium with each other. This occurs as a result of the expansion of the universe, as their interaction rates decrease up to this critical point. The two verified instances of decoupling since the Big Bang which are most often discussed are photon decoupling and neutrino decoupling, as these led to the cosmic microwave background and cosmic neutrino background, respectively.

This instability is exactly what is needed to explain the observation that the Universe is much more irregular now than at decoupling, and gravitational instability is almost universally accepted to be the primary influence leading to the formation of structures in the Universe. It is an appealingly simple picture, rather spoiled in real life by the fact that while gravity may have the lead role, numerous other processes also have a part to play and things become quite complicated. For example, we know that radiation has pressure proportional to its density, and during structure formation the irregularities create pressure gradients which lead to forces opposing the gravitational collapse. We know that neutrinos move relativistically and do not interact with other material, and so they are able to escape from structures as they form. And once structure formation begins, the complex astrophysics of stars, especially supernovae, can inject energy back into the intergalactic regions and influence regions yet to complete their gravitational collapse. [2]

Pressure Force distributed continuously over an area

Pressure is the force applied perpendicular to the surface of an object per unit area over which that force is distributed. Gauge pressure is the pressure relative to the ambient pressure.

The density, or more precisely, the volumetric mass density, of a substance is its mass per unit volume. The symbol most often used for density is ρ, although the Latin letter D can also be used. Mathematically, density is defined as mass divided by volume:

Structure formation The formation of galaxies, galaxy clusters and larger structures from small early density fluctuations

In physical cosmology, structure formation is the formation of galaxies, galaxy clusters and larger structures from small early density fluctuations. The universe, as is now known from observations of the cosmic microwave background radiation, began in a hot, dense, nearly uniform state approximately 13.8 billion years ago. However, looking in the sky today, we see structures on all scales, from stars and planets to galaxies and, on still larger scales, galaxy clusters and sheet-like structures of galaxies separated by enormous voids containing few galaxies. Structure formation attempts to model how these structures formed by gravitational instability of small early density ripples.

Related Research Articles

Dark matter Hypothetical form of matter comprising most of the matter in the universe

Dark matter is a hypothetical form of matter that is thought to account for approximately 85% of the matter in the universe and about a quarter of its total energy density. The majority of dark matter is thought to be non-baryonic in nature, possibly being composed of some as-yet undiscovered subatomic particles. Its presence is implied in a variety of astrophysical observations, including gravitational effects that cannot be explained unless more matter is present than can be seen. For this reason, most experts think dark matter to be ubiquitous in the universe and to have had a strong influence on its structure and evolution. Dark matter is called dark because it does not appear to interact with observable electromagnetic radiation, such as light, and is thus invisible to the entire electromagnetic spectrum, making it extremely difficult to detect using usual astronomical equipment.

Galaxy formation and evolution The processes that formed a heterogeneous universe from a homogeneous beginning, the formation of the first galaxies, the way galaxies change over time

The study of galaxy formation and evolution is concerned with the processes that formed a heterogeneous universe from a homogeneous beginning, the formation of the first galaxies, the way galaxies change over time, and the processes that have generated the variety of structures observed in nearby galaxies. Galaxy formation is hypothesized to occur from structure formation theories, as a result of tiny quantum fluctuations in the aftermath of the Big Bang. The simplest model in general agreement with observed phenomena is the Lambda-CDM model—that is, that clustering and merging allows galaxies to accumulate mass, determining both their shape and structure.

Galaxy groups and clusters largest known gravitationally bound object in universe; aggregation of galaxies

Galaxy groups and clusters are the largest known gravitationally bound objects to have arisen thus far in the process of cosmic structure formation. They form the densest part of the large-scale structure of the Universe. In models for the gravitational formation of structure with cold dark matter, the smallest structures collapse first and eventually build the largest structures, clusters of galaxies. Clusters are then formed relatively recently between 10 billion years ago and now. Groups and clusters may contain ten to thousands of individual galaxies. The clusters themselves are often associated with larger, non-gravitationally bound, groups called superclusters.

Molecular cloud type of interstellar cloud

A molecular cloud, sometimes called a stellar nursery (if star formation is occurring within), is a type of interstellar cloud, the density and size of which permit the formation of molecules, most commonly molecular hydrogen (H2). This is in contrast to other areas of the interstellar medium that contain predominantly ionized gas.

Accelerating expansion of the universe rate of increase in the expansion of the universe

The accelerating expansion of the universe is the observation that the expansion of the universe is such that the velocity at which a distant galaxy is receding from the observer is continuously increasing with time.

Star formation is the process by which dense regions within molecular clouds in interstellar space, sometimes referred to as "stellar nurseries" or "star-forming regions", collapse and form stars. As a branch of astronomy, star formation includes the study of the interstellar medium (ISM) and giant molecular clouds (GMC) as precursors to the star formation process, and the study of protostars and young stellar objects as its immediate products. It is closely related to planet formation, another branch of astronomy. Star formation theory, as well as accounting for the formation of a single star, must also account for the statistics of binary stars and the initial mass function. Most stars do not form in isolation but as part of a group of stars referred as star clusters or stellar associations.

In astronomy, the term "compact star" refers collectively to white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes. It would grow to include exotic stars if such hypothetical dense bodies are confirmed.

A gravastar is an object hypothesized in astrophysics as an alternative to the black hole theory by Pawel O. Mazur and Emil Mottola. It has usual black hole metric outside of the horizon, but de Sitter metric inside. On the horizon there is a thin shell of matter. The term "gravastar" is a portmanteau of the words "gravitational vacuum star".

Gravitational collapse contraction of an astronomical object due to the influence of its own gravity

Gravitational collapse is the contraction of an astronomical object due to the influence of its own gravity, which tends to draw matter inward toward the center of gravity. Gravitational collapse is a fundamental mechanism for structure formation in the universe. Over time an initial, relatively smooth distribution of matter will collapse to form pockets of higher density, typically creating a hierarchy of condensed structures such as clusters of galaxies, stellar groups, stars and planets.

A hummock is a small knoll or mound above ground. They are typically less than 15 meters in height and tend to appear in groups or fields. It is difficult to make generalizations about hummocks because of the diversity in their morphology and sedimentology. An extremely irregular surface may be called hummocky.

Introduction to general relativity Theory of gravity by Albert Einstein

General relativity is a theory of gravitation that was developed by Albert Einstein between 1907 and 1915. According to general relativity, the observed gravitational effect between masses results from their warping of spacetime.

Dark matter halo A theoretical component of a galaxy that envelops the galactic disc and extends well beyond the edge of the visible galaxy

A dark matter halo is a theoretical component of a galaxy that envelops the galactic disc and extends well beyond the edge of the visible galaxy. The halo's mass dominates the total mass. Thought to consist of dark matter, halos have not been observed directly. Their existence is inferred through their effects on the motions of stars and gas in galaxies. Dark matter halos play a key role in current models of galaxy formation and evolution. The dark matter halo is not fully explained by the presence of massive compact halo objects (MACHOs).

Mechanical explanations of gravitation are attempts to explain the action of gravity by aid of basic mechanical processes, such as pressure forces caused by pushes, without the use of any action at a distance. These theories were developed from the 16th until the 19th century in connection with the aether. However, such models are no longer regarded as viable theories within the mainstream scientific community and general relativity is now the standard model to describe gravitation without the use of actions at a distance. Modern "quantum gravity" hypotheses also attempt to describe gravity by more fundamental processes such as particle fields, but they are not based on classical mechanics.

History of Solar System formation and evolution hypotheses

The history of scientific thought about the Formation and evolution of the Solar System begins with the Copernican Revolution. The first recorded use of the term "Solar System" dates from 1704.

Chronology of the universe The history and future of the universe according to Big Bang cosmology

The chronology of the universe describes the history and future of the universe according to Big Bang cosmology. The earliest stages of the universe's existence are estimated as taking place 13.8 billion years ago, with an uncertainty of around 21 million years at the 68% confidence level.

Modified Newtonian dynamics (MOND) is a theory that proposes a modification of Newton's laws to account for observed properties of galaxies. It is an alternative to the theory of dark matter in terms of explaining why galaxies do not appear to obey the currently understood laws of physics.

Galactic clusters are gravitationally bound large-scale structures of multiple galaxies. The evolution of these aggregates is determined by time and manner of formation and the process of how their structures and constituents have been changing with time. Gamow (1952) and Weizscker (1951) showed that the observed rotations of galaxies are important for cosmology. They postulated that the rotation of galaxies might be a clue of physical conditions under which these systems formed. Thus, understanding the distribution of spatial orientations of the spin vectors of galaxies is critical to understanding the origin of the angular momenta of galaxies.


  1. Trinh, X.T.; Montmerle, T.; Van Tran, J.T. (1987). Starbursts and Galaxy Evolution. Moriond proceedings. Editions Frontieres. p. 472. ISBN   978-2-86332-050-1 . Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  2. Liddle, Andrew (2003). An Introduction to Modern Cosmology (2nd ed.). Wiley. ISBN   0-470-84835-9.