Galaxy Zoo: observing secular evolution through bars

Edmond Cheung, E. Athanassoula, Karen L. Masters, Robert C. Nichol, A. Bosma, Eric F. Bell, S. M. Faber, David C. Koo, Chris Lintott, Thomas Melvin, Kevin Schawinski, Ramin A. Skibba, Kyle W. Willett

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In this paper, we use the Galaxy Zoo 2 data set to study the behavior of bars in disk galaxies as a function of specific star formation rate (SSFR) and bulge prominence. Our sample consists of 13,295 disk galaxies, with an overall (strong) bar fraction of 23.6% ± 0.4%, of which 1154 barred galaxies also have bar length (BL) measurements. These samples are the largest ever used to study the role of bars in galaxy evolution. We find that the likelihood of a galaxy hosting a bar is anticorrelated with SSFR, regardless of stellar mass or bulge prominence. We find that the trends of bar likelihood and BL with bulge prominence are bimodal with SSFR. We interpret these observations using state-of-the-art simulations of bar evolution that include live halos and the effects of gas and star formation. We suggest our observed trends of bar likelihood with SSFR are driven by the gas fraction of the disks, a factor demonstrated to significantly retard both bar formation and evolution in models. We interpret the bimodal relationship between bulge prominence and bar properties as being due to the complicated effects of classical bulges and central mass concentrations on bar evolution and also to the growth of disky pseudobulges by bar evolution. These results represent empirical evidence for secular evolution driven by bars in disk galaxies. This work suggests that bars are not stagnant structures within disk galaxies but are a critical evolutionary driver of their host galaxies in the local universe (z < 1).
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Astrophysical Journal
Issue number2
Early online date3 Dec 2013
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2013


  • galaxies: bulges
  • galaxies: evolution
  • galaxies: formation
  • galaxies: spiral
  • galaxies: statistics
  • galaxies: structure


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