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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]$_{122 \rm {\mu m}}$, andmore »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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    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 hotmore »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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  3. Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2023

    We use FIRE simulations to study disc formation in z ∼ 0, Milky Way-mass galaxies, and conclude that a key ingredient for the formation of thin stellar discs is the ability for accreting gas to develop an aligned angular momentum distribution via internal cancellation prior to joining the galaxy. Among galaxies with a high fraction ($\gt 70{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$) of their young stars in a thin disc (h/R ∼ 0.1), we find that: (i) hot, virial-temperature gas dominates the inflowing gas mass on halo scales (≳20 kpc), with radiative losses offset by compression heating; (ii) this hot accretion proceeds until angular momentum support slows inward motion, at which point the gas cools to $\lesssim 10^4\, {\rm K}$; (iii) prior to cooling, the accreting gas develops an angular momentum distribution that is aligned with the galaxy disc, and while cooling transitions from a quasi-spherical spatial configuration to a more-flattened, disc-like configuration. We show that the existence of this ‘rotating cooling flow’ accretion mode is strongly correlated with the fraction of stars forming in a thin disc, using a sample of 17 z ∼ 0 galaxies spanning a halo mass range of 1010.5 M⊙ ≲ Mh ≲ 1012 M⊙ and stellarmore »mass range of 108 M⊙ ≲ M⋆ ≲ 1011 M⊙. Notably, galaxies with a thick disc or irregular morphology do not undergo significant angular momentum alignment of gas prior to accretion and show no correspondence between halo gas cooling and flattening. Our results suggest that rotating cooling flows (or, more generally, rotating subsonic flows) that become coherent and angular momentum-supported prior to accretion on to the galaxy are likely a necessary condition for the formation of thin, star-forming disc galaxies in a ΛCDM universe.

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  5. 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 phasemore »∼6.5 Gyr ago; prior to that time the Milky Way likely lacked a recognizable thin disc.« less
  6. null (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT We explore the origin of stellar metallicity gradients in simulated and observed dwarf galaxies. We use FIRE-2 cosmological baryonic zoom-in simulations of 26 isolated galaxies as well as existing observational data for 10 Local Group dwarf galaxies. Our simulated galaxies have stellar masses between 105.5 and 108.6 M⊙. Whilst gas-phase metallicty gradients are generally weak in our simulated galaxies, we find that stellar metallicity gradients are common, with central regions tending to be more metal-rich than the outer parts. The strength of the gradient is correlated with galaxy-wide median stellar age, such that galaxies with younger stellar populations have flatter gradients. Stellar metallicty gradients are set by two competing processes: (1) the steady ‘puffing’ of old, metal-poor stars by feedback-driven potential fluctuations and (2) the accretion of extended, metal-rich gas at late times, which fuels late-time metal-rich star formation. If recent star formation dominates, then extended, metal-rich star formation washes out pre-existing gradients from the ‘puffing’ process. We use published results from ten Local Group dwarf galaxies to show that a similar relationship between age and stellar metallicity-gradient strength exists among real dwarfs. This suggests that observed stellar metallicity gradients may be driven largely by the baryon/feedback cycle rather thanmore »by external environmental effects.« less
  7. null (Ed.)
  8. ABSTRACT Understanding the rate at which stars form is central to studies of galaxy formation. Observationally, the star formation rates (SFRs) of galaxies are measured using the luminosity in different frequency bands, often under the assumption of a time-steady SFR in the recent past. We use star formation histories (SFHs) extracted from cosmological simulations of star-forming galaxies from the FIRE project to analyse the time-scales to which the H α and far-ultraviolet (FUV) continuum SFR indicators are sensitive. In these simulations, the SFRs are highly time variable for all galaxies at high redshift, and continue to be bursty to z = 0 in dwarf galaxies. When FIRE SFHs are partitioned into their bursty and time-steady phases, the best-fitting FUV time-scale fluctuates from its ∼10 Myr value when the SFR is time-steady to ≳100 Myr immediately following particularly extreme bursts of star formation during the bursty phase. On the other hand, the best-fitting averaging time-scale for H α is generally insensitive to the SFR variability in the FIRE simulations and remains ∼5 Myr at all times. These time-scales are shorter than the 100 and 10 Myr time-scales sometimes assumed in the literature for FUV and H α, respectively, because while the FUV emission persists for stellar populations oldermore »than 100 Myr, the time-dependent luminosities are strongly dominated by younger stars. Our results confirm that the ratio of SFRs inferred using H α versus FUV can be used to probe the burstiness of star formation in galaxies.« less
  9. ABSTRACT We study the spatially resolved (sub-kpc) gas velocity dispersion (σ)–star formation rate (SFR) relation in the FIRE-2 (Feedback in Realistic Environments) cosmological simulations. We specifically focus on Milky Way-mass disc galaxies at late times (z ≈ 0). In agreement with observations, we find a relatively flat relationship, with σ ≈ 15–30 km s−1 in neutral gas across 3 dex in SFRs. We show that higher dense gas fractions (ratios of dense gas to neutral gas) and SFRs are correlated at constant σ. Similarly, lower gas fractions (ratios of gas to stellar mass) are correlated with higher σ at constant SFR. The limits of the σ–ΣSFR relation correspond to the onset of strong outflows. We see evidence of ‘on-off’ cycles of star formation in the simulations, corresponding to feedback injection time-scales of 10–100 Myr, where SFRs oscillate about equilibrium SFR predictions. Finally, SFRs and velocity dispersions in the simulations agree well with feedback-regulated and marginally stable gas disc (Toomre’s Q = 1) model predictions, and the simulation data effectively rule out models assuming that gas turns into stars at (low) constant efficiency (i.e. 1 per cent per free-fall time). And although the simulation data do not entirely exclude gas accretion/gravitationally powered turbulence as a driver of σ,more »it appears to be subdominant to stellar feedback in the simulated galaxy discs at z ≈ 0.« less