Barred spiral galaxy

NGC 1300, viewed nearly face-on; Hubble Space Telescope image

A barred spiral galaxy is a spiral galaxy with a central bar-shaped structure composed of stars. Bars are found in approximately two-thirds of all spiral galaxies.[1] Bars generally affect both the motions of stars and interstellar gas within spiral galaxies and can affect spiral arms as well.[1] The Milky Way Galaxy, where our own Solar System is located, is classified as a barred spiral galaxy.[2]

Edwin Hubble classified spiral galaxies of this type as "SB" (spiral, barred) in his Hubble sequence, and arranged them into sub-categories based on how open the arms of the spiral are. SBa types feature tightly bound arms, while SBc types are at the other extreme and have loosely bound arms. SBb-type galaxies lie in between. SB0 is a barred lenticular galaxy. A new type, SBm, was subsequently created to describe somewhat irregular barred spirals, such as the Magellanic Cloud galaxies, which were once classified as irregular galaxies, but have since been found to contain barred spiral structures. Among other types in Hubble's classifications for the galaxies are: spiral galaxy, elliptical galaxy and irregular galaxy.


Barred galaxies are apparently predominant, with surveys showing that up to two-thirds of all spiral galaxies contain a bar.[3] The current hypothesis is that the bar structure acts as a type of stellar nursery, fueling star birth at their centers. The bar is thought to act as a mechanism that channels gas inwards from the spiral arms through orbital resonance, in effect funneling the flow to create new stars.[4] This process is also thought to explain why many barred spiral galaxies have active galactic nuclei, such as that seen in the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy.

The creation of the bar is generally thought to be the result of a density wave radiating from the center of the galaxy whose effects reshape the orbits of the inner stars. This effect builds over time to stars orbiting further out, which creates a self-perpetuating bar structure.[5]

Bars are thought to be temporary phenomena in the lives of spiral galaxies; the bar structures decay over time, transforming galaxies from barred spirals to more "regular" spiral patterns. Past a certain size the accumulated mass of the bar compromises the stability of the overall bar structure. Barred spiral galaxies with high mass accumulated in their center tend to have short, stubby bars.[6] Since so many spiral galaxies have bar structures, it is likely that they are recurring phenomena in spiral galaxy development. The oscillating evolutionary cycle from spiral galaxy to barred spiral galaxy is thought to take on the average about two billion years.[7]

Recent studies have confirmed the idea that bars are a sign of galaxies reaching full maturity as the "formative years" end. A team led by Kartik Sheth of the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena discovered that only 20 percent of the spiral galaxies in the distant past possessed bars, compared with nearly 70 percent of their modern counterparts.[8]

Milky Way Galaxy spiral arms - based on WISE data.


The general classification is "SB" (spiral barred). The sub-categories are based on how open or tight the arms of the spiral are. SBa types feature tightly bound arms. SBc types are at the other extreme and have loosely bound arms. SBb galaxies lie in between. SBm describes somewhat irregular barred spirals. SB0 is a barred lenticular galaxy.


Example Type Image Information
NGC 2787 SB0
SB0 is a type of lenticular galaxy
NGC 4314 SBa
NGC 4921 SBab
Messier 95 SBb
NGC 3953 SBbc
NGC 1073 SBc
Messier 108 SBcd
NGC 2903 SBd
NGC 5398 SBdm SBdm can also be considered a type

of barred Magellanic spiral

NGC 55 SBm SBm is a type of Magellanic spiral (Sm)

Other examples

Name Image Type Constellation
M58 SBc Virgo
M91 SBb Coma Berenices
M95 SBb Leo
M109 SBb Ursa Major
NGC 1300 SBbc Eridanus
NGC 1365 SBc Fornax
NGC 2217 SBa Canis Major
Magellanic Clouds SBm Dorado, Tucana

See also

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Barred spiral galaxies.


  1. 1 2 D. Mihalas (1968). Galactic Astronomy. W. H. Freeman. ISBN 978-0-7167-0326-6.
  2. (Sbc = spiral barred)
  3. P. B. Eskridge; J. A. Frogel (1999). "What is the True Fraction of Barred Spiral Galaxies?". Astrophysics and Space Science. 269/270: 427–430. Bibcode:1999Ap&SS.269..427E. doi:10.1023/A:1017025820201.
  4. J. H. Knapen; D. Pérez-Ramírez; S. Laine (2002). "Circumnuclear regions in barred spiral galaxies - II. Relations to host galaxies". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 337 (3): 808–828. arXiv:astro-ph/0207258Freely accessible. Bibcode:2002MNRAS.337..808K. doi:10.1046/j.1365-8711.2002.05840.x.
  5. F. Bournaud; F. Combes (2002). "Gas accretion on spiral galaxies: Bar formation and renewal". Astronomy and Astrophysics. 392 (1): 83–102. arXiv:astro-ph/0206273Freely accessible. Bibcode:2002A&A...392...83B. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:20020920.
  6. Barred Spirals Come and Go, Sky and Telescope, April 2002
  7. Ripples in a Galactic Pond, Scientific American, October 2005
  8. Barred Spiral Galaxies are Latecomers to the Universe Newswise, Retrieved on July 29, 2008.
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