A new model of spiral galaxies based on propagating star formation.
Many models exist in the literature of either star formation or galactic structure, but the former concentrate on small-scale details, whilst the latter, if they include star formation at all, adopt a very simple approach, for example by assuming a power law relationship between the rate of star formation and the gas density (a Schmidt Law). The new model described in this dissertation bridges the gap between these two extremes by adopting a simple, but not simplistic, approach to the detailed physics, allowing the effects of star formation on the broader scale to be investigated. 'Propagating star formation' considers the collapse of molecular clouds (and subsequent creation of new stars) to be triggered by the passage of a shock wave resulting from the supernovae explosions of members of the previous generation of stars. The approach taken is a stochastic one, i.e. we determine from the mass of a cloud the probability of star formation occurring, given that it has been shocked. Models using a similar approach have been described before, but the new model is unique in that it uses a particulate representation of the gas clouds and stellar associations. This permits us to simulate collisions between the particles as they orbit in a realistic galactic gravitational potential and more importantly, to impose a spiral density wave perturbation in a natural way. Such waves arise naturally in N-body simulations where the collective forces between particles are considered explicitly, but we are more interested in its effect on the star formation rate, and hence to make the code more manageable, impose the perturbation by hand. The model has been extremely successful; for example, predicting accurately, with no free parameters, the cluster formation rate for the Milky Way. A Schmidt Law arises as a natural consequence and with a power law index which is consistent with observational constraints. A wide range of galactic morphologies can be produced, including long-lived two-armed grand-design spirals, which have not resulted from any of the previous propagating star formation models. The spiral density wave orders the star formation, but does not simply result in the star formation tracing directly the potential minima - it is found that the pitch angles of the imposed and observed spiral patterns differ significantly. Moreover, the pitch angle of the observed pattern exhibits a maximum value equal to the maximum pitch angle observed in late-type spirals. To compare the results of this, and other, models of galactic structure with observed galaxies, we require some way of classifying the appearance of the data sets. There already exist a number of schemes, but they are all somewhat subjective, and a reliable, quantitative approach would form a valuable addition. I have investigated a number of schemes, namely Fourier transforms, minimal spanning tree edge-length spectra and multifractal dimensions, and considered their application to both simulated and observed data. The results of the analysis are encouraging, particularly for the multifractals, although it is not as yet possible to calculate a single, unique number which fully characterises the morphology.