Statistical Physics and Thermodynamics of Gravitating Systems

Bruce Miller



The observation that extended gravitational systems contain millions, or even billions, of stars has stimulated theorists to explore the possibility of using statistical and thermodynamic models to understand their properties, and even their existence. However, due to both the infinite range and short-range singularity of the Newtonian gravitational force, problems arise in the attempt to apply these methods to objects like globular clusters and galaxies. Over the years this subject has drawn the attention of an illustrious group of scientists, including Emden, Eddington, Jeans, Chandrasekhar, Lynden-Bell, Thirring and Spitzer, and others less well known (Cohn, Katz, Kiessling, Padmanabhan, Heggie, ). In my group at T. C. U. we have used idealized one-dimensional models to explore the nonlinear dynamics and statistical physics of gravitational systems. We have looked at the problem of relaxation to equilibrium, the existence and role of thermodynamic phases and phase transitions, the dynamics of core collapse and, in a recent collaboration, the fractal properties of the distribution of matter in an expanding universe. In my talk I will provide a general introduction to the subject, and discuss the insights gained from our work.



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