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  1. Abstract Observations of the Milky Way’s low- α disk show that several element abundances correlate with age at fixed metallicity, with unique slopes and small scatters around the age–[X/Fe] relations. In this study, we turn to simulations to explore the age–[X/Fe] relations for the elements C, N, O, Mg, Si, S, and Ca that are traced in a FIRE-2 cosmological zoom-in simulation of a Milky Way–like galaxy, m12i, and understand what physical conditions give rise to the observed age–[X/Fe] trends. We first explore the distributions of mono-age populations in their birth and current locations, [Fe/H], and [X/Fe], and find evidence for inside-out radial growth for stars with ages <7 Gyr. We then examine the age–[X/Fe] relations across m12i’s disk and find that the direction of the trends agrees with observations, apart from C, O, and Ca, with remarkably small intrinsic scatters, σ int (0.01 − 0.04 dex). This σ int measured in the simulations is also metallicity dependent, with σ int ≈ 0.025 dex at [Fe/H] = −0.25 dex versus σ int ≈ 0.015 dex at [Fe/H] = 0 dex, and a similar metallicity dependence is seen in the GALAH survey for the elements in common. Additionally, we find that σ int is higher in the inner galaxy, where stars are older and formed in less chemically homogeneous environments. The age–[X/Fe] relations and the small scatter around them indicate that simulations capture similar chemical enrichment variance as observed in the Milky Way, arising from stars sharing similar element abundances at a given birth place and time. 
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    We characterize the 3D spatial variations of [Fe/H], [Mg/H], and [Mg/Fe] in stars at the time of their formation, across 11 simulated Milky Way (MW)- and M31-mass galaxies in the FIRE-2 simulations, to inform initial conditions for chemical tagging. The overall scatter in [Fe/H] within a galaxy decreased with time until $\approx 7 \, \rm {Gyr}$ ago, after which it increased to today: this arises from a competition between a reduction of azimuthal scatter and a steepening of the radial gradient in abundance over time. The radial gradient is generally negative, and it steepened over time from an initially flat gradient $\gtrsim 12 \, \rm {Gyr}$ ago. The strength of the present-day abundance gradient does not correlate with when the disc ‘settled’; instead, it best correlates with the radial velocity dispersion within the galaxy. The strength of azimuthal variation is nearly independent of radius, and the 360 deg scatter decreased over time, from $\lesssim 0.17 \, \rm {dex}$ at $t_{\rm lb} = 11.6 \, \rm {Gyr}$ to $\sim 0.04 \, \rm {dex}$ at present-day. Consequently, stars at $t_{\rm lb} \gtrsim 8 \, \rm {Gyr}$ formed in a disc with primarily azimuthal scatter in abundances. All stars formed in a vertically homogeneous disc, Δ[Fe/H]$\le 0.02 \, \rm {dex}$ within $1 \, \rm {kpc}$ of the galactic mid-plane, with the exception of the young stars in the inner $\approx 4 \, \rm {kpc}$ at z ∼ 0. These results generally agree with our previous analysis of gas-phase elemental abundances, which reinforces the importance of cosmological disc evolution and azimuthal scatter in the context of stellar chemical tagging. We provide analytic fits to our results for use in chemical-tagging analyses.

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  3. null (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT We use FIRE-2 simulations to examine 3D variations of gas-phase elemental abundances of [O/H], [Fe/H], and [N/H] in 11 MW and M31-mass galaxies across their formation histories at z ≤ 1.5 ($t_{\rm lookback} \le 9.4 \, \rm {Gyr}$), motivated by characterizing the initial conditions of stars for chemical tagging. Gas within $1 \, \rm {kpc}$ of the disc mid-plane is vertically homogeneous to $\lesssim 0.008 \, \rm {dex}$ at all z ≤ 1.5. We find negative radial gradients (metallicity decreases with galactocentric radius) at all times, which steepen over time from $\approx \! -0.01 \, \rm {dex}\, \rm {kpc}^{-1}$ at z = 1 ($t_{\rm lookback} = 7.8 \, \rm {Gyr}$) to $\approx \! -0.03 \, \rm {dex}\, \rm {kpc}^{-1}$ at z = 0, and which broadly agree with observations of the MW, M31, and nearby MW/M31-mass galaxies. Azimuthal variations at fixed radius are typically $0.14 \, \rm {dex}$ at z = 1, reducing to $0.05 \, \rm {dex}$ at z = 0. Thus, over time radial gradients become steeper while azimuthal variations become weaker (more homogeneous). As a result, azimuthal variations were larger than radial variations at z ≳ 0.8 ($t_{\rm lookback} \gtrsim 6.9 \, \rm {Gyr}$). Furthermore, elemental abundances are measurably homogeneous (to ≲0.05 dex) across a radial range of $\Delta R \approx 3.5 \, \rm {kpc}$ at z ≳ 1 and $\Delta R \approx 1.7 \, \rm {kpc}$ at z = 0. We also measure full distributions of elemental abundances, finding typically negatively skewed normal distributions at z ≳ 1 that evolve to typically Gaussian distributions by z = 0. Our results on gas abundances inform the initial conditions for stars, including the spatial and temporal scales for applying chemical tagging to understand stellar birth in the MW. 
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  4. null (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT We present the first measurement of the lifetimes of giant molecular clouds (GMCs) in cosmological simulations at z = 0, using the Latte suite of FIRE-2 simulations of Milky Way (MW) mass galaxies. We track GMCs with total gas mass ≳105 M⊙ at high spatial (∼1 pc), mass (7100 M⊙), and temporal (1 Myr) resolution. Our simulated GMCs are consistent with the distribution of masses for massive GMCs in the MW and nearby galaxies. We find GMC lifetimes of 5–7 Myr, or 1–2 freefall times, on average, with less than 2 per cent of clouds living longer than 20 Myr. We find decreasing GMC lifetimes with increasing virial parameter, and weakly increasing GMC lifetimes with galactocentric radius, implying that environment affects the evolutionary cycle of GMCs. However, our GMC lifetimes show no systematic dependence on GMC mass or amount of star formation. These results are broadly consistent with inferences from the literature and provide an initial investigation into ultimately understanding the physical processes that govern GMC lifetimes in a cosmological setting. 
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