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Astron. Astrophys. 324, 523-533 (1997)

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Dynamical effects of softening in N -body simulations of disc galaxies

Method and first applications

Alessandro B. Romeo

Onsala Space Observatory, Chalmers University of Technology, S-43992 Onsala, Sweden (romeo@oso.chalmers.se)

Received 18 November 1996 / Accepted 16 December 1996


Two questions that naturally arise in N -body simulations of stellar systems are:

  1. How can we compare experiments that employ different types of softened gravity?
  2. Given a particular type of softened gravity, which choices of the softening length optimize the faithfulness of the experiments to the Newtonian dynamics?

We devise a method for exploring the dynamical effects of softening, which provides detailed answers in the case of 2-D simulations of disc galaxies and also solves important aspects of the 3-D problem. In the present paper we focus on two applications that reveal the dynamical differences between the most representative types of softened gravity, including certain anisotropic alternatives. Our method is potentially important not only for testing but also for developing new ideas about softening. Indeed, it opens a direct route to the discovery of optimal types of softened gravity for given dynamical requirements, and thus to the accomplishment of a physically consistent modelling.

Key words: gravitation – methods: analytical – methods: numerical – galaxies: kinematics and dynamics – galaxies: spiral – stellar dynamics


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© European Southern Observatory (ESO) 1997

Online publication: May 26, 1998