The Hubble Sequence and Types of Galaxies: A Comprehensive Guide

The Hubble sequence is a fundamental classification scheme for galaxies, developed by the renowned astronomer Edwin Hubble in 1926. This classification system categorizes galaxies based on their visual appearance, primarily into elliptical, spiral, barred spiral, and irregular galaxies. Understanding the Hubble sequence and the various types of galaxies is crucial for studying the structure, evolution, and dynamics of the universe.

Elliptical Galaxies

Elliptical galaxies are characterized by their spherical or elliptical shape, with stars distributed evenly throughout the galaxy. These galaxies are classified based on their ellipticity, ranging from E0 (almost round) to E7 (very elliptical).


The ellipticity of an elliptical galaxy is defined as the ratio of the minor axis to the major axis, and it can be calculated using the formula:

Ellipticity = 1 - (b/a)

where a is the major axis and b is the minor axis of the galaxy.

For example, an E0 galaxy has an ellipticity of 0, while an E7 galaxy has an ellipticity of 0.6.

Stellar Distribution

The stars in elliptical galaxies are distributed evenly throughout the galaxy, with no distinct spiral arms or central bulge. This uniform distribution of stars gives elliptical galaxies their smooth, featureless appearance.

Spiral Galaxies

hubble sequence and types of galaxies

Spiral galaxies are characterized by their distinctive spiral arms, which wind outward from a central bulge. These galaxies are classified based on the compactness of their spiral arms, ranging from Sa (tightly wound) to Sc (loosely wound).

Compactness of Spiral Arms

The compactness of the spiral arms in a spiral galaxy is determined by the pitch angle of the arms, which is the angle between the tangent to the spiral arm and a circle centered on the galactic center. The pitch angle can be calculated using the formula:

Pitch Angle = tan^-1 (h/2πr)

where h is the distance between adjacent spiral arms and r is the radial distance from the galactic center.

For example, an Sa galaxy has a small pitch angle, resulting in tightly wound spiral arms, while an Sc galaxy has a larger pitch angle, resulting in more loosely wound spiral arms.

Barred Spirals

A subset of spiral galaxies, known as barred spirals, have a bar of stars running through their central bulge, with the spiral arms starting at the end of the bar. These barred spirals are classified as SBa (tightly wound) to SBc (loosely wound), similar to the classification of regular spiral galaxies.

Lenticular Galaxies

Lenticular galaxies, or S0 galaxies, are in the transition zone between elliptical and spiral galaxies. These galaxies have a central bulge and a disk-like structure, but they lack the distinct spiral arms of spiral galaxies.

Irregular Galaxies

Irregular galaxies are those that do not fit into the other categories of the Hubble sequence. These galaxies have odd shapes and do not exhibit the regular structures of elliptical, spiral, or lenticular galaxies.

Galaxy Evolution

The Hubble sequence is not just a static classification system; it also reflects the evolution of galaxies over time. The shape and structure of a galaxy are influenced by various factors, including:


Galaxy mergers play a crucial role in shaping the final outcome of galaxy types. Elliptical galaxies often result from multiple mergers, while disk galaxies (spiral and lenticular) are the product of fewer or no mergers.

Dark Matter and Dark Energy

The Lambda Cold Dark Matter (ΛCDM) model, which includes dark energy, is believed to influence the evolution of galaxies and their shapes. The distribution and interactions of dark matter and dark energy can affect the formation and structure of different galaxy types.

Quantifiable Data

In addition to the qualitative characteristics of the Hubble sequence, there are several quantifiable data points that can be used to study and compare different types of galaxies:

Galaxy Sizes

The sizes of galaxies vary greatly, with giant elliptical galaxies being very large and dwarf galaxies being very small. The typical size of a galaxy can be measured in terms of its diameter or its effective radius (the radius that encloses half of the galaxy’s total light).

Star Formation Rates

The star formation rates in galaxies differ, with spiral galaxies generally having higher rates of star formation than elliptical galaxies. This can be measured by the amount of ionized gas, dust, and young, hot stars present in the galaxy.


The luminosities of galaxies also vary, with different types having distinct luminosity profiles. Elliptical galaxies tend to have higher overall luminosities, while spiral galaxies can have more localized regions of high luminosity, such as in their spiral arms and central bulges.


The Hubble sequence and the classification of galaxies into different types provide a powerful framework for understanding the structure and evolution of the universe. By studying the quantifiable data and characteristics of these galaxy types, astronomers and astrophysicists can gain valuable insights into the fundamental processes that shape the cosmos.


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