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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - Introduction

Summary

This book is concerned with the physical processes related to the formation and evolution of galaxies. Simply put, a galaxy is a dynamically bound system that consists of many stars. A typical bright galaxy, such as our own Milky Way, contains a few times 1010 stars and has a diameter (~ 20kpc) that is several hundred times smaller than the mean separation between bright galaxies. Since most of the visible stars in the Universe belong to a galaxy, the number density of stars within a galaxy is about 107 times higher than the mean number density of stars in the Universe as a whole. In this sense, galaxies are well-defined, astronomical identities. They are also extraordinarily beautiful and diverse objects whose nature, structure and origin have intrigued astronomers ever since the first galaxy images were taken in the mid-nineteenth century.

The goal of this book is to show how physical principles can be used to understand the formation and evolution of galaxies. Viewed as a physical process, galaxy formation and evolution involve two different aspects: (i) initial and boundary conditions; and (ii) physical processes which drive evolution. Thus, in very broad terms, our study will consist of the following parts:

• Cosmology: Since we are dealing with events on cosmological time and length scales, we need to understand the space-time structure on large scales. One can think of the cosmological framework as the stage on which galaxy formation and evolution take place.

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