A hubble space telescope archival survey of feathers in spiral galaxies

Misty A. La Vigne, Stuart N. Vogel, Eve Charis Ostriker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


We present a survey of spiral arm extinction substructures referred to as feathers in 223 spiral galaxies using Hubble Space Telescope WFPC2 images. The sample includes all galaxies in the RC3 catalog with cz < 5000 km s -1, BT < 15, i < 60°, and types Sa-Sd with well-exposed broadband WFPC2 images. The detection frequency of delineated, periodic feathers in this sample is 20% (45 of 223). This work is consistent with Lynds, who concluded that feathers are common in prototypical Sc galaxies; we find that feathers are equally common in Sb galaxies. Sb-Sc galaxies without clear evidence for feathers either had poorer quality images, or flocculent or complex structure. We did not find clearly defined feathers in any Scd-Sd galaxy. The probability of detecting feathers was highest (83%) for spiral galaxies with well-defined primary dust lanes (the lanes that line the inner edge of an arm); well-defined primary dust lanes were only noted in Sab-Sc galaxies. Consistent with earlier work, we find that neighboring feathers tend to have similar shapes and pitch angles. OB associations are often found lining feathers, and many feathers transition to the stellar substructures known as spurs ( Elmegreen). We find that feathers are coincident with interarm filaments strikingly revealed in Spitzer 8 μm images. Comparison with CO (1-0) maps of NGC 0628 and NGC 5194 from BIMA SONG shows that feathers originate at the primary dust lane coincident with gas surface density peaks. Contrary to the appearance at 8 μm, the CO maps show that gas surface density in feathers decreases rapidly with distance from the primary dust lane. We also find that the spacing between feathers decreases with increasing gas surface density, consistent with formation via a gravitational instability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)818-834
Number of pages17
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 I
StatePublished - Oct 20 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Galaxies: ISM
  • Galaxies: spiral
  • Galaxies: structure
  • Surveys


Dive into the research topics of 'A hubble space telescope archival survey of feathers in spiral galaxies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this