Kinematic morphology of large-scale structure: Evolution from potential to rotational flow

Xin Wang, Alex Szalay, Miguel A. Aragón-Calvo, Mark C. Neyrinck, Gregory L. Eyink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As an alternative way to describe the cosmological velocity field, we discuss the evolution of rotational invariants constructed from the velocity gradient tensor. Compared with the traditional divergence-vorticity decomposition, these invariants, defined as coefficients of the characteristic equation of the velocity gradient tensor, enable a complete classification of all possible flow patterns in the dark-matter comoving frame, including both potential and vortical flows. We show that this tool, first introduced in turbulence two decades ago, is very useful for understanding the evolution of the cosmic web structure, and in classifying its morphology. Before shell crossing, different categories of potential flow are highly associated with the cosmic web structure because of the coherent evolution of density and velocity. This correspondence is even preserved at some level when vorticity is generated after shell crossing. The evolution from the potential to vortical flow can be traced continuously by these invariants. With the help of this tool, we show that the vorticity is generated in a particular way that is highly correlated with the large-scale structure. This includes a distinct spatial distribution and different types of alignment between the cosmic web and vorticity direction for various vortical flows. Incorporating shell crossing into closed dynamical systems is highly non-trivial, but we propose a possible statistical explanation for some of the phenomena relating to the internal structure of the three-dimensional invariant space.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number58
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 20 2014


  • cosmology: theory
  • large-scale structure of universe

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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