Vol 11, No 12 (2011) / Feng

Modeling the Newtonian dynamics for rotation curve analysis of thin-disk galaxies

James Q. Feng, C. F. Gallo


We present an efficient, robust computational method for modeling the Newtonian dynamics for rotation curve analysis of thin-disk galaxies. With appropriate mathematical treatments, the apparent numerical difficulties associated with singularities in computing elliptic integrals are completely removed. Using a boundary element discretization procedure, the governing equations are transformed into a linear algebra matrix equation that can be solved by straightforward Gauss elimination in one step without further iterations. The numerical code implemented according to our algorithm can accurately determine the surface mass density distribution in a disk galaxy from a measured rotation curve (or vice versa). For a disk galaxy with a typical flat rotation curve, our modeling results show that the surface mass density monotonically decreases from the galactic center toward the periphery, according to Newtonian dynamics. In a large portion of the galaxy, the surface mass density follows an approximately exponential law of decay with respect to the galactic radial coordinate. Yet the radial scale length for the surface mass density seems to be generally larger than that of the measured brightness distribution, suggesting an increasing mass-to- light ratio with the radial distance in a disk galaxy. In a nondimensionalized form, our mathematical system contains a dimensionless parameter which we call the “galactic rotation number” that represents the gross ratio of centrifugal force and gravitational force. The value of this galactic rotation number is determined as part of the numerical solution. Through a systematic computational analysis, we have illustrated that the galactic rotation number remains within ±10% of 1.70 for a wide variety of rotation curves. This implies that the total mass in a disk galaxy is proportional to V02Rg , with V0 denoting the characteristic rotation velocity (such as the “flat” value in a typical rotation curve) and Rg the radius of the galactic disk. The predicted total galactic mass of the Milky Way is in good agreement with the star-count data.


galaxy: disk — galaxies: general — galaxies: kinematics and dynamics — galaxies: structure — methods: numerical and analytical

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