Movements of the spiral symphony

November 27, 2008

Galactic Dynamics

Authors: James Binney and Scott Tremaine

Edition: Second

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Pages: 920

Price: £65.00 and £35.00

ISBN 9780691130262 and 09

One of the greatest puzzles of physics, dark matter, is firmly rooted in astronomical observations. These can be understood only with a thorough knowledge of galactic dynamics. More broadly, our understanding of our own galaxy, and indeed all other galaxies, is based on dynamics. It is a core area of modern astronomy and a requisite for observers and theorists alike. Galactic Dynamics is pervasive and is relevant for the interpretation of images and spectra of galaxies, wherever they are in the Universe. In essence, this covers all of extragalactic astronomy.

Gravity at work is the underlying approach. The gravitational potential is the fundamental infrastructure from which orbits of stars are calculated. These cover the essence of galaxies. In Galactic Dynamics, we learn about diverse potentials and Poisson solvers, numerical orbit integrators and chaotic orbits. There are chapters on the equilibria and stability of collisionless systems. The reader will live and breathe Plummer potentials, Liapunov exponents, Schwarzschild models, Mestel discs and angle action variables. Spiral structure theory and kinetic theory are developed, including excitation of spiral density waves, disc warping and buckling, Liouville's theorem and the Fokker-Planck equation. Encounters of self-gravitating collisionless systems, galaxy mergers and galaxy formation are included in the final chapters.

Why do galactic discs have spiral structure? Why do galaxies have even numbers of spiral arms? Are spiral arms leading or trailing? What is the Jeans swindle? How do spheroidal systems attain equilibrium? Why do some galaxies have bars? What determines the thickness of the disks and the central densities of the bulges? What role do black holes play in galaxy formation? These are only a few of the questions addressed in this book. The explanations are pedagogical and clear and are laid out with the necessary mathematical details. The level is ideal for an introductory course in astronomy that is addressed to final-year undergraduates in mathematics or physics.

James Binney and Scott Tremaine are leading theoretical astrophysicists who have made major contributions to galactic dynamics. They are known as excellent teachers at their respective institutions of the University of Oxford and Princeton University. This book reflects their pedagogical skills and is a model of precision and clarity.

The subject provides an essential infrastructure for many areas of modern astronomy. The text, which was first published in 1987, has become a widely cited reference. The new version is extensively revised and updated.

Who is it for? The book is intended for general astrophysics courses addressed to final-year undergraduates or beginning graduate students in physics. It is also an excellent reference source for more advanced courses on specific topics in astrophysics.

Presentation: Good.

Would you recommend it? Yes. I recommend this text as an ideal introduction for anyone wishing to enter the field of galactic astrophysics, and who already possesses only a minimal background in astronomy.

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