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  1. 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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  3. ABSTRACT Recent searches for the hosts of z ∼ 4 damped Ly α absorbers (DLAs) have detected bright galaxies at distances of tens of kpc from the DLA. Using the FIRE-2 cosmological zoom simulations, we argue that these relatively large distances are due to a predominantly cool and neutral inner circumgalactic medium (CGM) surrounding high-redshift galaxies. The inner CGM is cool because of the short cooling time of hot gas in ${\lesssim}10^{12}\, {\rm M_{\odot }}$ haloes, which implies that accretion and feedback energy are radiated quickly, while it is neutral due to high volume densities and column densities at high redshift that shield cool gas from photoionization. Our analysis predicts large DLA covering factors (${\gtrsim}50{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$) out to impact parameters ∼0.3[(1 + z)/5]3/2Rvir from the central galaxies at z ≳ 1, equivalent to a proper distance of ${\sim}21\, M_{12}^{1/3} \left(\left(1+z\right)/5\right)^{1/2}\, {\rm kpc}$ (Rvir and M12 are the halo virial radius and mass in units of $10^{12}\, {\rm M_{\odot }}$, respectively). This implies that DLA covering factors at z ∼ 4 may be comparable to unity out to a distance ∼10 times larger than stellar half-mass radii. A predominantly neutral inner CGM in the early universe suggests that its mass andmore »metallicity can be directly constrained by absorption surveys, without resorting to the large ionization corrections as required for ionized CGM.« less
  4. ABSTRACT We examine the thermodynamic state and cooling of the low-z circumgalactic medium (CGM) in five FIRE-2 galaxy formation simulations of Milky Way-mass galaxies. We find that the CGM in these simulations is generally multiphase and dynamic, with a wide spectrum of largely non-linear density perturbations sourced by the accretion of gas from the intergalactic medium (IGM) and outflows from both the central and satellite galaxies. We investigate the origin of the multiphase structure of the CGM with a particle-tracking analysis and find that most of the low-entropy gas has cooled from the hot halo as a result of thermal instability triggered by these perturbations. The ratio of cooling to free-fall time-scales tcool/tff in the hot component of the CGM spans a wide range of ∼1−100 at a given radius but exhibits approximately constant median values of ∼5−20 at all radii 0.1Rvir < r < Rvir. These are similar to the ≈10−20 value typically adopted as the thermal instability threshold in ‘precipitation’ models of the ICM. Consequently, a one-dimensional model based on the assumption of a constant tcool/tff and hydrostatic equilibrium approximately reproduces the number density and entropy profiles of each simulation but only if it assumes the metallicity profilemore »and temperature boundary condition taken directly from the simulation. We explicitly show that the tcool/tff value of a gas parcel in the hot component of the CGM does not predict its probability of subsequently accreting on to the central galaxy. This suggests that the value of tcool/tff is a poor predictor of thermal stability in gaseous haloes in which large-amplitude density perturbations are prevalent.« less
  5. ABSTRACT We characterize mass, momentum, energy, and metal outflow rates of multiphase galactic winds in a suite of FIRE-2 cosmological ‘zoom-in’ simulations from the Feedback in Realistic Environments (FIRE) project. We analyse simulations of low-mass dwarfs, intermediate-mass dwarfs, Milky Way-mass haloes, and high-redshift massive haloes. Consistent with previous work, we find that dwarfs eject about 100 times more gas from their interstellar medium (ISM) than they form in stars, while this mass ‘loading factor’ drops below one in massive galaxies. Most of the mass is carried by the hot phase (>105 K) in massive haloes and the warm phase (103−105 K) in dwarfs; cold outflows (<103 K) are negligible except in high-redshift dwarfs. Energy, momentum, and metal loading factors from the ISM are of order unity in dwarfs and significantly lower in more massive haloes. Hot outflows have 2−5 × higher specific energy than needed to escape from the gravitational potential of dwarf haloes; indeed, in dwarfs, the mass, momentum, and metal outflow rates increase with radius whereas energy is roughly conserved, indicating swept up halo gas. Burst-averaged mass loading factors tend to be larger during more powerful star formation episodes and when the inner halo is not virialized, but we seemore »effectively no trend with the dense ISM gas fraction. We discuss how our results can guide future controlled numerical experiments that aim to elucidate the key parameters governing galactic winds and the resulting associated preventative feedback.« less
  6. 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
  7. null (Ed.)
  8. ABSTRACT Observations of ultraviolet (UV) metal absorption lines have provided insight into the structure and composition of the circumgalactic medium (CGM) around galaxies. We compare these observations with the low-redshift (z ≤ 0.3) CGM around dwarf galaxies in high-resolution cosmological zoom-in runs in the FIRE-2 (Feedback In Realistic Environments) simulation suite. We select simulated galaxies that match the halo mass, stellar mass, and redshift of the observed samples. We produce absorption measurements using trident for UV transitions of C iv, O vi, Mg ii, and Si iii. The FIRE equivalent width (EW) distributions and covering fractions for the C iv ion are broadly consistent with observations inside 0.5Rvir, but are underpredicted for O vi, Mg ii, and Si iii. The absorption strengths of the ions in the CGM are moderately correlated with the masses and star formation activity of the galaxies. The correlation strengths increase with the ionization potential of the ions. The structure and composition of the gas from the simulations exhibit three zones around dwarf galaxies characterized by distinct ion column densities: the discy interstellar medium, the inner CGM (the wind-dominated regime), and the outer CGM (the IGM accretion-dominated regime). We find that the outer CGM in the simulations is nearly but not quite supported bymore »thermal pressure, so it is not in hydrostatic equilibrium, resulting in halo-scale bulk inflow and outflow motions. The net gas inflow rates are comparable to the star formation rate of the galaxy, but the bulk inflow and outflow rates are greater by an order of magnitude, with velocities comparable to the virial velocity of the halo. These roughly virial velocities (${\sim } 100 \, \rm km\, s^{-1}$) produce large EWs in the simulations. This supports a picture for dwarf galaxies in which the dynamics of the CGM at large scales are coupled to the small-scale star formation activity near the centre of their haloes.« less