Can any comparison be made between spiral galaxies and hurricanes? (Intermediate)

Just curious about spiral galaxies. My question is: " Can any comparison be made between the make-up and movements of hurricane's on earth and those of a spiral galaxy?" I refer to "make-up" in the sense that an hurricane consists of an eye. A spiral galaxy consists of a center (black hole perhaps). Both hurricane's and galaxies move in a counter-clockwise direction. Please correct me if any statements that I've made are incorrect. I'm just curious if any relevant conclusions can be made.

This is an interesting question. Spiral galaxies and hurricanes certainly look alike even though they form in such different ways. Here is a nice site on the structure of hurricanes, and one on spiral galaxies (specifically the Milky Way).

m51-isabel lula c2

Comparison of Hurricane Isabel with spiral galaxy M51. Credit: Comparison and M51 image copyright Brian Lula; Hurricane Isabel, courtesy GHCC, NASA. Reproduced with permission.

The first big difference I notice is that hurricanes are definitely three dimensional, while spiral galaxies have a very thin disk so are almost in one plane.

There is little similarity between the centres in my opinion. The centre of hurricanes (the eye) is a calm area with less clouds than the edges, while the centre of galaxies has more stars than the edges - that's why we see a bright centre.

Asking whether or not spiral galaxies rotate counter-clockwise is not a question you can answer - they go both ways depending which side you look at them from. I can say that they usually have trailing spiral arms, which appears to also be true for hurricanes.

So there are some superficial similarities, but since the physics and scales involved is so different I don't think we can draw any conclusions from it. Hurricanes are structures in the gravitational field of the Earth, while galaxies are self gravitating objects in space.

About the Author

Karen Masters

Karen Masters

Karen was a graduate student at Cornell from 2000-2005. She went on to work as a researcher in galaxy redshift surveys at Harvard University, and is now on the Faculty at the University of Portsmouth back in her home country of the UK. Her research lately has focused on using the morphology of galaxies to give clues to their formation and evolution. She is the Project Scientist for the Galaxy Zoo project.

Twitter:  @KarenLMasters

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