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  1. Abstract

    We present Firefly, a new browser-based interactive tool for visualizing 3D particle data sets. On a typical personal computer, Firefly can simultaneously render and enable real-time interactions with ≳10 million particles, and can interactively explore data sets with billions of particles using the included custom-built octree render engine. Once created, viewing a Firefly visualization requires no installation and is immediately usable in most modern internet browsers simply by visiting a URL. As a result, a Firefly visualization works out-of-the-box on most devices including smartphones and tablets. Firefly is primarily developed for researchers to explore their own data, but can also be useful to communicate results to researchers and/or collaborators and as an effective public outreach tool. Every element of the user interface can be customized and disabled, enabling easy adaptation of the same visualization for different audiences with little additional effort. Creating a new Firefly visualization is simple with the provided Python data preprocessor that translates input data to a Firefly-compatible format and provides helpful methods for hosting instances of Firefly both locally and on the internet. In addition to visualizing the positions of particles, users can visualize vector fields (e.g., velocities) and also filter and color points by scalar fields. We share three examples of Firefly applied to astronomical data sets: (1) the FIRE cosmological zoom-in simulations, (2) the SDSS galaxy catalog, and (3) Gaia Data Release 3. A gallery of additional interactive demos is available

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    We investigate the formation of Milky Way–mass galaxies using FIRE-2 ΛCDM cosmological zoom-in simulations by studying the orbital evolution of stars formed in the main progenitor of the galaxy, from birth to the present day. We classify in situ stars as isotropic spheroid, thick-disc, and thin-disc according to their orbital circularities and show that these components are assembled in a time-ordered sequence from early to late times, respectively. All simulated galaxies experience an early phase of bursty star formation that transitions to a late-time steady phase. This transition coincides with the time that the inner CGM virializes. During the early bursty phase, galaxies have irregular morphologies and new stars are born on radial orbits; these stars evolve into an isotropic spheroidal population today. The bulk of thick-disc stars form at intermediate times, during a clumpy-disc ‘spin-up’ phase, slightly later than the peak of spheroid formation. At late times, once the CGM virializes and star formation ‘cools down,’ stars are born on circular orbits within a narrow plane. Those stars mostly inhabit thin discs today. Broadly speaking, stars with disc-like or spheroid-like orbits today were born that way. Mergers on to discs and secular processes do affect kinematics in our simulations, but play only secondary roles in populating thick-disc and in situ spheroid populations at z = 0. The age distributions of spheroid, thick disc, and thin disc populations scale self-similarly with the steady-phase transition time, which suggests that morphological age dating can be linked to the CGM virialization time in galaxies.

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    Milky Way-mass galaxies in the FIRE-2 simulations demonstrate two main modes of star formation. At high redshifts star formation occurs in a series of short and intense bursts, while at low redshifts star formation proceeds at a steady rate with a transition from one mode to another at times ranging from 3 to 7 Gyr ago for different galaxies. We analyse how the mode of star formation affects iron and alpha-element abundance. We find that the early bursty regime imprints a measurable pattern in stellar elemental abundances in the form of a ‘sideways chevron’ shape on the [Fe/H] – [O/Fe] plane and the scatter in [O/Fe] at a given stellar age is higher than when a galaxy is in the steady regime. That suggests that the evolution of [O/Fe] scatter with age provides an estimate of the end of the bursty phase. We investigate the feasibility of observing of this effect by adding mock observational errors to a simulated stellar survey and find that the transition between the bursty and steady phase should be detectable in the Milky Way, although larger observational uncertainties make the transition shallower. We apply our method to observations of the Milky Way from the Second APOKASC Catalogue and estimate that the transition to steady star formation in the Milky Way happened 7 – 8 Gyrs ago, earlier than transition times measured in the simulations.

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    Several recent simulations of galaxy formation predict two main phases of supermassive black hole (BH) accretion: an early, highly intermittent phase (during which BHs are undermassive relative to local scaling relations), followed by a phase of accelerated growth. We investigate physical factors that drive the transition in BH accretion in cosmological zoom-in simulations from the FIRE project, ranging from dwarf galaxies to galaxies sufficiently massive to host luminous quasars. The simulations model multichannel stellar feedback, but neglect AGN feedback. We show that multiple physical properties, including halo mass, galaxy stellar mass, and depth of the central gravitational potential correlate with accelerated BH fuelling: constant thresholds in these properties are typically crossed within ∼0.1 Hubble time of accelerated BH fuelling. Black hole masses increase sharply when the stellar surface density in the inner 1 kpc crosses a threshold $\Sigma^\star _{1\,\rm kpc}\approx 10^{9.5} \, {\rm M_{\odot }}\,{\rm kpc}^{-2}$, a characteristic value above which gravity prevents stellar feedback from ejecting gas, and similar to the value above which galaxies are observed to quench. We further show that accelerated BH growth correlates with the emergence of long-lived thin gas discs, as well as with virialization of the inner circumgalactic medium. The halo mass Mhalo ∼ 1012 M⊙ and stellar mass M* ∼ 1010.5 M⊙ at which BH growth accelerates correspond to ∼L⋆ galaxies. The fact that stellar feedback becomes inefficient at ejecting gas from the nucleus above this mass scale may play an important role in explaining why AGN feedback appears to be most important in galaxies above L⋆.

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    Interstellar chemistry is important for galaxy formation, as it determines the rate at which gas can cool, and enables us to make predictions for observable spectroscopic lines from ions and molecules. We explore two central aspects of modelling the chemistry of the interstellar medium (ISM): (1) the effects of local stellar radiation, which ionizes and heats the gas, and (2) the depletion of metals on to dust grains, which reduces the abundance of metals in the gas phase. We run high-resolution (400 M⊙ per baryonic particle) simulations of isolated disc galaxies, from dwarfs to Milky Way-mass, using the fire galaxy formation models together with the chimes non-equilibrium chemistry and cooling module. In our fiducial model, we couple the chemistry to the stellar fluxes calculated from star particles using an approximate radiative transfer scheme; and we implement an empirical density-dependent prescription for metal depletion. For comparison, we also run simulations with a spatially uniform radiation field, and without metal depletion. Our fiducial model broadly reproduces observed trends in H i and H2 mass with stellar mass, and in line luminosity versus star formation rate for [C ii]$_{158 \rm {\mu m}}$, [O i]$_{63 \rm {\mu m}}$, [O iii]$_{88 \rm {\mu m}}$, [N ii]$_{122 \rm {\mu m}}$, and H α6563Å. Our simulations with a uniform radiation field predict fainter luminosities, by up to an order of magnitude for [O iii]$_{88 \rm {\mu m}}$ and H α6563Å, while ignoring metal depletion increases the luminosity of carbon and oxygen lines by a factor ≈ 2. However, the overall evolution of the galaxy is not strongly affected by local stellar fluxes or metal depletion, except in dwarf galaxies where the inclusion of local fluxes leads to weaker outflows and hence higher gas fractions.

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    Recent observations and simulations indicate substantial evolution in the properties of galaxies with time, wherein rotationally supported and steady thin discs (like those frequently observed in the local Universe) emerge from galaxies that are clumpy, irregular, and have bursty star formation rates (SFRs). To better understand the progenitors of local disc galaxies, we carry out an analysis of three FIRE-2 simulated galaxies with a mass similar to the Milky Way at redshift z = 0. We show that all three galaxies transition from bursty to steady SFRs at a redshift between z = 0.5 and z = 0.8, and that this transition coincides with the rapid (≲1 Gyr) emergence of a rotationally supported interstellar medium (ISM). In the late phase with steady SFR, the rotational energy comprises ${\gtrsim }90{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$ of the total kinetic + thermal energy in the ISM, and is roughly half the gravitational energy. By contrast, during the early bursty phase, the ISM initially has a quasi-spheroidal morphology and its energetics are dominated by quasi-isotropic in- and outflows out of virial equilibrium. The subdominance of rotational support and out-of-equilibrium conditions at early times challenge the application of standard equilibrium disc models to high-redshift progenitors of Milky Way-like galaxies. We further find that the formation of a rotationally-supported ISM coincides with the onset of a thermal pressure supported inner circumgalactic medium (CGM). Before this transition, there is no clear boundary between the ISM and the inner CGM.

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    Cosmic rays (CRs) are an important component in the interstellar medium, but their effect on the dynamics of the disc–halo interface (<10 kpc from the disc) is still unclear. We study the influence of CRs on the gas above the disc with high-resolution FIRE-2 cosmological simulations of late-type L⋆ galaxies at redshift z ∼ 0. We compare runs with and without CR feedback (with constant anisotropic diffusion κ∥ ∼ 3 × 1029 cm2 s−1 and streaming). Our simulations capture the relevant disc–halo interactions, including outflows, inflows, and galactic fountains. Extra-planar gas in all of the runs satisfies dynamical balance, where total pressure balances the weight of the overlying gas. While the kinetic pressure from non-uniform motion (≳1 kpc scale) dominates in the mid-plane, thermal and bulk pressures (or CR pressure if included) take over at large heights. We find that with CR feedback, (1) the warm (∼104 K) gas is slowly accelerated by CRs; (2) the hot (>5 × 105 K) gas scale height is suppressed; (3) the warm-hot (2 × 104–5 × 105 K) medium becomes the most volume-filling phase in the disc–halo interface. We develop a novel conceptual model of the near-disc gas dynamics in low-redshift L⋆ galaxies: with CRs, the disc–halo interface is filled with CR-driven warm winds and hot superbubbles that are propagating into the circumgalactic medium with a small fraction falling back to the disc. Without CRs, most outflows from hot superbubbles are trapped by the existing hot halo and gravity, so typically they form galactic fountains.

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    As they grow, galaxies can transition from irregular/spheroidal with ‘bursty’ star formation histories (SFHs), to discy with smooth SFHs. But even in simulations, the direct physical cause of such transitions remains unclear. We therefore explore this in a large suite of numerical experiments re-running portions of cosmological simulations with widely varied physics, further validated with existing FIRE simulations. We show that gas supply, cooling/thermodynamics, star formation model, Toomre scale, galaxy dynamical times, and feedback properties do not have a direct causal effect on these transitions. Rather, both the formation of discs and cessation of bursty star formation are driven by the gravitational potential, but in different ways. Disc formation is promoted when the mass profile becomes sufficiently centrally concentrated in shape (relative to circularization radii): we show that this provides a well-defined dynamical centre, ceases to support the global ‘breathing modes’ that can persist indefinitely in less-concentrated profiles and efficiently destroy discs, promotes orbit mixing to form a coherent angular momentum, and stabilizes the disc. Smooth SF is promoted by the potential or escape velocity Vesc (not circular velocity Vc) becoming sufficiently large at the radii of star formation that cool, mass-loaded (momentum-conserving) outflows are trapped/confined near the galaxy, as opposed to escaping after bursts. We discuss the detailed physics, how these conditions arise in cosmological contexts, their relation to other correlated phenomena (e.g. inner halo virialization, vertical disc ‘settling’), and observations.

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  9. Abstract We describe a public data release of the FIRE-2 cosmological zoom-in simulations of galaxy formation (available at ) from the Feedback In Realistic Environments (FIRE) project. FIRE-2 simulations achieve parsec-scale resolution to explicitly model the multiphase interstellar medium while implementing direct models for stellar evolution and feedback, including stellar winds, core-collapse and Type Ia supernovae, radiation pressure, photoionization, and photoelectric heating. We release complete snapshots from three suites of simulations. The first comprises 20 simulations that zoom in on 14 Milky Way (MW)–mass galaxies, five SMC/LMC-mass galaxies, and four lower-mass galaxies including one ultrafaint; we release 39 snapshots across z = 0–10. The second comprises four massive galaxies, with 19 snapshots across z = 1–10. Finally, a high-redshift suite comprises 22 simulations, with 11 snapshots across z = 5–10. Each simulation also includes dozens of resolved lower-mass (satellite) galaxies in its zoom-in region. Snapshots include all stored properties for all dark matter, gas, and star particles, including 11 elemental abundances for stars and gas, and formation times (ages) of star particles. We also release accompanying (sub)halo catalogs, which include galaxy properties and member star particles. For the simulations to z = 0, including all MW-mass galaxies, we release the formation coordinates and an “ex situ” flag for all star particles, pointers to track particles across snapshots, catalogs of stellar streams, and multipole basis expansions for the halo mass distributions. We describe publicly available python packages for reading and analyzing these simulations. 
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  10. null (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT We investigate thin and thick stellar disc formation in Milky Way-mass galaxies using 12 FIRE-2 cosmological zoom-in simulations. All simulated galaxies experience an early period of bursty star formation that transitions to a late-time steady phase of near-constant star formation. Stars formed during the late-time steady phase have more circular orbits and thin-disc-like morphology at z = 0, while stars born during the bursty phase have more radial orbits and thick-disc structure. The median age of thick-disc stars at z = 0 correlates strongly with this transition time. We also find that galaxies with an earlier transition from bursty to steady star formation have a higher thin-disc fractions at z = 0. Three of our systems have minor mergers with Large Magellanic Cloud-size satellites during the thin-disc phase. These mergers trigger short starbursts but do not destroy the thin disc nor alter broad trends between the star formation transition time and thin/thick-disc properties. If our simulations are representative of the Universe, then stellar archaeological studies of the Milky Way (or M31) provide a window into past star formation modes in the Galaxy. Current age estimates of the Galactic thick disc would suggest that the Milky Way transitioned from bursty to steady phase ∼6.5 Gyr ago; prior to that time the Milky Way likely lacked a recognizable thin disc. 
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