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The Flavor of Spiral Galaxies

Spiral galaxies come in many shapes and sizes with many different and intriguing features. Some have rings, some have bars, some even have both. Because the distribution of material in a spiral galaxy is not uniform, but preferentially confined to a disk of material, how that disk aligns to our line of sight also dramatically changes the appearance of spiral galaxies that we see. If a galaxy is nearly face-on to us, we see it as though we are looking down onto a pancake from above. If a galaxy is nearly edge-on, it appears to us as if we are looking at the pancake from the side or from the edge. The range of angles between face-on (90°) and edge-on (0°) leaves a multitude of inclinations that help hide or show some of the features of a galaxy's disk. Although spiral galaxies do have inherint differences in their structure, the inclination of spirals is specific to how we view them from Earth.

 

Some examples of differently-inclined spiral galaxies
(click on images to enlarge or learn more)

Nearly Face-on Spirals

Barred Spirals

Non-barred Spirals

Nearly Edge-on Spirals