Interstellar Hydrogen in Galaxies

Science  01 Feb 1974:
Vol. 183, Issue 4123, pp. 371-378
DOI: 10.1126/science.183.4123.371


Measurement of the 21-cm line radiation originating from the interstellar neutral hydrogen in a galaxy yields information on the total mass and total hydrogen content of the galaxy. The ratio of these two quantities is correlated with structural type in the sense that the later type galaxies contain a higher fraction of their total mass in the form of interstellar hydrogen This ratio is one of the few physical parameters known to correlate with structural type. It need not, however, reflect an evolutionary sequence, such as more hydrogen implying a younger galaxy. Efficiency of conversion of hydrogen to stars can just as easily explain the correlation.

Except for the very latest systems, the total mass of a spiral does not appear to be correlated with type.

Red shifts of galaxies measured at optical wavelengths and at 21 cm are in excellent agreement. The form of the Doppler expression has been shown to hold over a wavelength range of 5 x 105.

All spirals earlier than type Ir which have been studied with adequate resolution show a central minimum in their hydrogen distribution. The region of maximum projected HI surface density occurs at some distance from the center. In the earlier type spirals the optical arms are located in the region of this maximum surface density. In the later type spirals the maximum HI density and prominent optical arms are less well correlated and, at times, are anticorrelated.

Detailed studies of the HI distribution and motions within a galaxy require the high relative resolution of beam synthesis arrays. We may expect significant new information from such studies, which are now in progress. Filled-aperture telescopes will supply the necessary observations at zero spacing and vital statistical information on large numbers of galaxies, peculiar systems and groups and clusters of galaxies. The two types of telescope systems will complement one another. In the near future we should have a much better description of spiral galaxies and, we hope, a better understanding of these systems.