Dynamical effects of softening in N-body simulations of disc galaxies. Method and first applications.
Journal article, 1997
Two questions that naturally arise in N-body simulations of stellar systems are: (o) How can we compare experiments that employ different types of softened gravity? (o) Given a particular type of softened gravity, which choices of the softening length optimize the faithfulness of the experiments to the Newtonian dynamics? We devise a method for exploring the dynamical effects of softening, which provides detailed answers in the case of 2-D simulations of disc galaxies and also solves important aspects of the 3-D problem. In the present paper we focus on two applications that reveal the dynamical differences between the most representative types of softened gravity, including certain anisotropic alternatives. Our method is potentially important not only for testing but also for developing new ideas about softening. Indeed, it opens a direct route to the discovery of optimal types of softened gravity for given dynamical requirements, and thus to the accomplishment of a physically consistent modelling.