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Astron. Astrophys. 341, 361-370 (1999)

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On the evolution of shape in N-body simulations

Ch. Theis 1 and R. Spurzem 2

1 Institut für Theoretische Physik und Astrophysik, Universität Kiel, Olshausenstrasse 40, D-24098 Kiel, Germany
2 Astronomisches Rechen-Institut, Mönchhofstrasse 12-14, D-69120 Heidelberg, Germany

Received 28 May 1998 / Accepted 29 September 1998


A database on shape evolution of direct N-body models formed out of cold, dissipationless collapse is generated using GRAPE and HARP special purpose computers. Such models are important to understand the formation of elliptical galaxies. Three dynamically distinct phases of shape evolution were found, first a fast dynamical collapse which gives rise to the radial orbit instability (ROI) and generates at its end the maximal triaxiality of the system. Subsequently, two phases of violent and two-body shape relaxation occur, which drive the system first towards axisymmetry, finally to spherical symmetry (the final state, however, is still much more concentrated than the initial model). In a sequence of models the influence of numerical and physical parameters, like particle number, softening, initial virial ratio, timestep choice, different N-body codes, are examined. We find that an improper combination of softening and particle number can produce erroneous results. Selected models were evolved on the secular timescale until they became spherically symmetric again. The secular shape relaxation time scale is shown to agree very well with the two-body relaxation time, if softening is properly taken into account for the latter. Finally, we argue, that the intermediate phase of violent shape relaxation after collapse is induced by strong core oscillations in the centre, which cause potential fluctuations, dampening out the triaxiality.

Key words: methods: N-body simulations – galaxies: evolution – galaxies: kinematics and dynamics

Send offprint requests to: Ch. Theis

© European Southern Observatory (ESO) 1999

Online publication: December 4, 1998