The role of density breaks in driving spiral structure in disc galaxies

Fiteni, Karl, De Rijcke, Sven, Debattista, Victor P orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-7902-0116 and Caruana, Joseph (2024) The role of density breaks in driving spiral structure in disc galaxies. Monthly Notices Of The Royal Astronomical Society, 529 (4). pp. 4879-4895. ISSN 0035-8711

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It is well established that stellar discs are destabilized by sharp features in their phase space, driving recurrent spiral modes. We explore the extent to which surface-density breaks in disc galaxies - which represent sharp changes in the gradient of the disc density - drive new spiral modes. We employ linear perturbation theory to investigate how disc breaks alter the eigenmode spectrum of an otherwise pure exponential disc. We find that the presence of a density break gives rise to a set of new, vigorously growing, modes. For a given multiplicity, these edge modes occur in pairs, with closely separated resonances between each pair. The growth rate of edge modes decreases when the break is weakened or moved outward to lower-density regions of the disc. Both down- and up-bending profiles excite edge modes, whose origin can be best understood via the gravitational torques they exert on the underlying disc. When the profile is down-bending (Type II) the faster growing mode is the inner one while in the up-bending (Type III) case the outer mode is faster growing. In both cases the faster growing mode has a corotation almost coincident with the break. We show that the torques of the edge modes tend to smoothen the break.

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