How does it happen that billions of stars can cooperate to produce the beautiful spirals that characterize so many galaxies, including ours? This book presents a theory of spiral structure that has been developed over the past three decades under the continuous stimulus of new observational studies. The theory unfolds in a way that can be grasped by any reader with an undergraduate science background who is interested in astronomy, as well as by graduate students and scientists actively involved in astronomy or related subjects who want to see the "backbone" and the physical content of the theory.
The foundations of this theoretical framework were laid in the early 1960s, following the pioneering work of B. Lindblad. C. C. Lin had already contributed significantly to the field of fluid mechanics when he turned his attention to spiral structures, and he has focused on the problem ever since. Giuseppe Bertin joined this research effort when he first visited at MIT in 1975, bringing to the project knowledge from his work on elliptical galaxies and plasma astrophysics. Together, Bertin and Lin have contributed to the exciting developments on spiral structure of the last few decades, working closely with many observers and other theorists. In this book they describe the density-wave theory with the goal of making the key concepts and astrophysical implications explicit and accessible.
The essence of the solution Bertin and Lin present is that the spirals are wave rather than material phenomena and generally trace intrinsic characteristics of the individual galaxies. The book is in three parts —Physical Concepts, Observational Studies, and Dynamical Mechanisms—with most of the technical details confinedto the last part.