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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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    Negative feedback from accreting supermassive black holes is considered crucial in suppressing star formation and quenching massive galaxies. However, several models and observations suggest that black hole feedback may have a positive effect, triggering star formation by compressing interstellar medium gas to higher densities. We investigate the dual role of black hole feedback using cosmological hydrodynamic simulations from the Feedback In Realistic Environment (FIRE) project, incorporating a novel implementation of hyper-refined accretion-disc winds. Focusing on a massive, star-forming galaxy at z ∼ 2 ($M_{\rm halo} \sim 10^{12.5}\, {\rm M}_{\odot }$), we demonstrate that strong quasar winds with a kinetic power of ∼1046 erg s−1, persisting for over 20 Myr, drive the formation of a central gas cavity and significantly reduce the surface density of star formation across the galaxy’s disc. The suppression of star formation primarily occurs by limiting the availability of gas for star formation rather than by evacuating the pre-existing star-forming gas reservoir (preventive feedback dominates over ejective feedback). Despite the overall negative impact of quasar winds, we identify several potential indicators of local positive feedback, including (1) the spatial anticorrelation between wind-dominated regions and star-forming clumps, (2) higher local star formation efficiency in compressed gas at the edge of the cavity, and (3) increased contribution of outflowing material to local star formation. Moreover, stars formed under the influence of quasar winds tend to be located at larger radial distances. Our findings suggest that both positive and negative AGN feedback can coexist within galaxies, although the local positive triggering of star formation has a minor influence on global galaxy growth.

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    Many recent numerical studies have argued that cosmic rays (CRs) from supernovae (SNe) or active galactic nuclei (AGNs) could play a crucial role in galaxy formation, in particular by establishing a CR-pressure-dominated circumgalactic medium (CGM). But explicit CR-magnetohydrodynamics (CR-MHD) remains computationally expensive, and it is not clear whether those results can be applied to simulations that do not explicitly treat magnetic fields or resolved interstellar medium phase structure. We therefore present an intentionally extremely simplified ‘sub-grid’ model for CRs, which attempts to capture the key qualitative behaviors of greatest interest for those interested in simulations or semi-analytical models including some approximate CR effects on galactic (≳ kpc) scales, while imposing negligible computational overhead. The model is numerically akin to some recently developed sub-grid models for radiative feedback, and allows for a simple constant parametrization of the CR diffusivity and/or streaming speed; it allows for an arbitrary distribution of sources (proportional to black hole accretion rates or star–particle SNe rates or gas/galaxy star formation rates), and interpolates between the limits where CRs escape the galaxies with negligible losses and those where CRs lose most of their energy catastrophically before escape (relevant in e.g. starburst galaxies). The numerical equations are solved trivially alongside gravity in most codes. We compare this to explicit CR-MHD simulations and discuss where the (many) sub-grid approximations break down, and what drives the major sources of uncertainty.

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    Feedback from accreting supermassive black holes (SMBHs) is thought to be a primary driver of quenching in massive galaxies, but how to best implement SMBH physics into galaxy formation simulations remains ambiguous. As part of the Feedback in Realistic Environments (FIRE) project, we explore the effects of different modelling choices for SMBH accretion and feedback in a suite of ∼500 cosmological zoom-in simulations across a wide range of halo mass (1010–1013 M⊙). Within the suite, we vary the numerical schemes for BH accretion and feedback, accretion efficiency, and the strength of mechanical, radiative, and cosmic ray feedback independently. We then compare the outcomes to observed galaxy scaling relations. We find several models satisfying observational constraints for which the energetics in different feedback channels are physically plausible. Interestingly, cosmic rays accelerated by SMBHs play an important role in many plausible models. However, it is non-trivial to reproduce scaling relations across halo mass, and many model variations produce qualitatively incorrect results regardless of parameter choices. The growth of stellar and BH mass are closely related: for example, overmassive BHs tend to overquench galaxies. BH mass is most strongly affected by the choice of accretion efficiency in high-mass haloes, but by feedback efficiency in low-mass haloes. The amount of star formation suppression by SMBH feedback in low-mass haloes is determined primarily by the time-integrated feedback energy. For massive galaxies, the ‘responsiveness’ of a model (how quickly and powerfully the BH responds to gas available for accretion) is an additional important factor for quenching.

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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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    Recent strides have been made developing dust evolution models for galaxy formation simulations but these approaches vary in their assumptions and degree of complexity. Here, we introduce and compare two separate dust evolution models (labelled ‘Elemental’ and ‘Species’), based on recent approaches, incorporated into the gizmo code and coupled with fire-2 stellar feedback and interstellar medium physics. Both models account for turbulent dust diffusion, stellar production of dust, dust growth via gas-dust accretion, and dust destruction from time-resolved supernovae, thermal sputtering in hot gas, and astration. The ‘Elemental’ model tracks the evolution of generalized dust species and utilizes a simple, ‘tunable’ dust growth routine, while the ‘Species’ model tracks the evolution of specific dust species with set chemical compositions and incorporates a physically motivated, two-phase dust growth routine. We test and compare these models in an idealized Milky Way-mass galaxy and find that while both produce reasonable galaxy-integrated dust-to-metals (D/Z) ratios and predict gas-dust accretion as the main dust growth mechanism, a chemically motivated model is needed to reproduce the observed scaling relation between individual element depletions and D/Z with column density and local gas density. We also find the inclusion of theoretical metallic iron and O-bearing dust species are needed in the case of specific dust species in order to match observations of O and Fe depletions, and the integration of a sub-resolution dense molecular gas/CO scheme is needed to both match observed C depletions and ensure carbonaceous dust is not overproduced in dense environments.

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    We present the first simulations evolving resolved spectra of cosmic rays (CRs) from MeV–TeV energies (including electrons, positrons, (anti)protons, and heavier nuclei), in live kinetic-magnetohydrodynamics galaxy simulations with star formation and feedback. We utilize new numerical methods including terms often neglected in historical models, comparing Milky Way analogues with phenomenological scattering coefficients ν to Solar-neighbourhood [Local interstellar medium (LISM)] observations (spectra, B/C, e+/e−, $\mathrm{\bar{p}}/\mathrm{p}$, 10Be/9Be, ionization, and γ-rays). We show it is possible to reproduce observations with simple single-power-law injection and scattering coefficients (scaling with rigidity R), similar to previous (non-dynamical) calculations. We also find: (1) The circumgalactic medium in realistic galaxies necessarily imposes an $\sim 10\,$ kpc CR scattering halo, influencing the required ν(R). (2) Increasing the normalization of ν(R) re-normalizes CR secondary spectra but also changes primary spectral slopes, owing to source distribution and loss effects. (3) Diffusive/turbulent reacceleration is unimportant and generally sub-dominant to gyroresonant/streaming losses, which are sub-dominant to adiabatic/convective terms dominated by $\sim 0.1-1\,$ kpc turbulent/fountain motions. (4) CR spectra vary considerably across galaxies; certain features can arise from local structure rather than transport physics. (5) Systematic variation in CR ionization rates between LISM and molecular clouds (or Galactic position) arises naturally without invoking alternative sources. (6) Abundances of CNO nuclei require most CR acceleration occurs around when reverse shocks form in SNe, not in OB wind bubbles or later Sedov–Taylor stages of SNe remnants.

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    The concurrent growth of supermassive black holes (SMBHs) and their host galaxies remains to be fully explored, especially at high redshift. While often understood as a consequence of self-regulation via AGN feedback, it can also be explained by alternative SMBH accretion models. Here, we expand on previous work by studying the growth of SMBHs with the help of a large suite of cosmological zoom-in simulations (MassiveFIRE) that are part of the Feedback in Realistic Environments (FIRE) project. The growth of SMBHs is modelled in post-processing with different black hole accretion models, placements, and merger treatments, and validated by comparing to on-the-fly calculations. Scaling relations predicted by the gravitational torque-driven accretion (GTDA) model agree with observations at low redshift without the need for AGN feedback, in contrast to models in which the accretion rate depends strongly on SMBH mass. At high redshift, we find deviations from the local scaling relations in line with previous theoretical results. In particular, SMBHs are undermassive, presumably due to stellar feedback, but start to grow efficiently once their host galaxies reach M* ∼ 1010M⊙. We analyse and explain these findings in the context of a simple analytic model. Finally, we show that the predicted scaling relations depend sensitively on the SMBH location and the efficiency of SMBH merging, particularly in low-mass systems. These findings highlight the relevance of understanding the evolution of SMBH-galaxy scaling relations to predict the rate of gravitational wave signals from SMBH mergers across cosmic history.

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    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 stellar 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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    Observations indicate that a continuous supply of gas is needed to maintain observed star formation rates in large, discy galaxies. To fuel star formation, gas must reach the inner regions of such galaxies. Despite its crucial importance for galaxy evolution, how and where gas joins galaxies is poorly constrained observationally and rarely explored in fully cosmological simulations. To investigate gas accretion in the vicinity of galaxies at low redshift, we analyse the FIRE-2 cosmological zoom-in simulations for 4 Milky Way mass galaxies (Mhalo ∼ 1012M⊙), focusing on simulations with cosmic ray physics. We find that at z ∼ 0, gas approaches the disc with angular momentum similar to the gaseous disc edge and low radial velocities, piling-up near the edge and settling into full rotational support. Accreting gas moves predominately parallel to the disc and joins largely in the outskirts. Immediately prior to joining the disc, trajectories briefly become more vertical on average. Within the disc, gas motion is complex, being dominated by spiral arm induced oscillations and feedback. However, time and azimuthal averages show slow net radial infall with transport speeds of 1–3 km s−1 and net mass fluxes through the disc of ∼M⊙ yr−1, comparable to the galaxies’ star formation rates and decreasing towards galactic centre as gas is sunk into star formation. These rates are slightly higher in simulations without cosmic rays (1–7 km s−1, ∼4–5 M⊙ yr−1). We find overall consistency of our results with observational constraints and discuss prospects of future observations of gas flows in and around galaxies.

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