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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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    Without active galactic nucleus (AGN) feedback, simulated massive, star-forming galaxies become too compact relative to observed galaxies at z ≲ 2. In this paper, we perform high-resolution re-simulations of a massive ($M_{\star }\sim 10^{11}\, \rm {{\rm M}_{\odot }}$) galaxy at z ∼ 2.3, drawn from the Feedback in Realistic Environments (FIRE) project. In the simulation without AGN feedback, the galaxy experiences a rapid starburst and shrinking of its half-mass radius. We experiment with driving mechanical AGN winds, using a state-of-the-art hyper-Lagrangian refinement technique to increase particle resolution. These winds reduce the gas surface density in the inner regions of the galaxy, suppressing the compact starburst and maintaining an approximately constant half-mass radius. Using radiative transfer, we study the impact of AGN feedback on the magnitude and extent of the multiwavelength continuum emission. When AGN winds are included, the suppression of the compact, dusty starburst results in lowered flux at FIR wavelengths (due to decreased star formation) but increased flux at optical-to-near-IR wavelengths (due to decreased dust attenuation, in spite of the lowered star formation rate), relative to the case without AGN winds. The FIR half-light radius decreases from ∼1 to $\sim 0.1\, \rm {kpc}$ in $\lesssim 40\, \rm {Myr}$ when AGN winds are not included, but increases to $\sim 2\, \rm {kpc}$ when they are. Interestingly, the half-light radius at optical-NIR wavelengths remains approximately constant over $35\, \rm {Myr}$, for simulations with and without AGN winds. In the case without winds, this occurs despite the rapid compaction, and is due to heavy dust obscuration in the inner regions of the galaxy. This work highlights the importance of forward-modelling when comparing simulated and observed galaxy populations.

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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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    We examine the azimuthal variations in gas-phase metallicity profiles in simulated Milky Way-mass disc galaxies from the Feedback in Realistic Environments (FIRE-2) cosmological zoom-in simulation suite, which includes a sub-grid turbulent metal mixing model. We produce spatially resolved maps of the discs at z ≈ 0 with pixel sizes ranging from 250 to 750 pc, analogous to modern integral field unit galaxy surveys, mapping the gas-phase metallicities in both the cold and dense gas and the ionized gas correlated with H ii regions. We report that the spiral arms alternate in a pattern of metal rich and metal poor relative to the median metallicity of the order of ≲0.1 dex, appearing generally in this sample of flocculent spirals. The pattern persists even in a simulation with different strengths of metal mixing, indicating that the pattern emerges from physics above the sub-grid scale. Local enrichment does not appear to be the dominant source of the azimuthal metallicity variations at z ≈ 0: there is no correlation with local star formation on these spatial scales. Rather, the arms are moving radially inwards and outwards relative to each other, carrying their local metallicity gradients with them radially before mixing into the larger-scale interstellar medium. We propose that the arms act as freeways channeling relatively metal poor gas radially inwards, and relatively enriched gas radially outwards.

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    Recent theoretical studies predict that the circumgalactic medium (CGM) around low-redshift, ∼L* galaxies could have substantial non-thermal pressure support in the form of cosmic rays. However, these predictions are sensitive to the specific model of cosmic ray transport employed, which is theoretically and observationally underconstrained. In this work, we propose a novel observational constraint for calculating the lower limit of the radially averaged, effective cosmic ray transport rate, ${\kappa _{\rm eff}^{\rm min}}$. Under a wide range of assumptions (so long as cosmic rays do not lose a significant fraction of their energy in the galactic disc, regardless of whether the cosmic ray pressure is important or not in the CGM), we demonstrate a well-defined relationship between ${\kappa _{\rm eff}^{\rm min}}$ and three observable galaxy properties: the total hydrogen column density, the average star formation rate, and the gas circular velocity. We use a suite of Feedback in Realistic Environments 2 galaxy simulations with a variety of cosmic ray transport physics to demonstrate that our analytical model of ${\kappa _{\rm eff}^{\rm min}}$ is a robust lower limit of the true cosmic ray transport rate. We then apply our new model to calculate ${\kappa _{\rm eff}^{\rm min}}$ for galaxies in the COS-Halos sample, and confirm this already reveals strong evidence for an effective transport rate that rises rapidly away from the interstellar medium to values ${\kappa _{\rm eff}^{\rm min}}\gtrsim 10^{30\!-\!31}\, {\rm cm}^2\, {\rm s}^{-1}$ (corresponding to anisotropic streaming velocities of $v^{\rm stream}_{\rm eff} \gtrsim 1000\, {\rm km}\, {\rm s}^{-1}$) in the diffuse CGM, at impact parameters larger than 50–100 kpc. We discuss how future observations can provide qualitatively new constraints in our understanding of cosmic rays in the CGM and intergalactic medium.

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    We perform cosmological hydrodynamical simulations to study the formation of proto-globular cluster candidates in progenitors of present-day dwarf galaxies $(M_{\rm vir} \approx 10^{10}\, {\rm M}_\odot$ at z = 0) as part of the ‘Feedback in Realistic Environment’ (FIRE) project. Compact (r1/2 < 30 pc), relatively massive (0.5 × 105 ≲ M⋆/M⊙ ≲ 5 × 105), self-bound stellar clusters form at 11 ≳ z ≳ 5 in progenitors with $M_{\rm vir} \approx 10^9\, \mathrm{M}_{\odot }$. Cluster formation is triggered when at least $10^7\, \mathrm{M}_{\odot }$ of dense, turbulent gas reaches $\Sigma _{\rm gas} \approx 10^4\, {\rm M}_\odot \, {\rm pc}^{-2}$ as a result of the compressive effects of supernova feedback or from cloud–cloud collisions. The clusters can survive for $2-3\, {\rm Gyr}$; absent numerical effects, they could possibly survive substantially longer, perhaps to z = 0. The longest lived clusters are those that form at significant distance – several hundreds of pc – from their host galaxy. We therefore predict that globular clusters forming in progenitors of present-day dwarf galaxies will be offset from any pre-existing stars within their host dark matter haloes as opposed to deeply embedded within a well-defined galaxy. Properties of the nascent clusters are consistent with observations of some of the faintest and most compact high-redshift sources in Hubble Space Telescope lensing fields and are at the edge of what will be detectable as point sources in deep imaging of non-lensed fields with JWST. By contrast, the star clusters’ host galaxies will remain undetectable.

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    A popular numerical method to model the dynamics of a ‘full spectrum’ of cosmic rays (CRs), also applicable to radiation/neutrino hydrodynamics, is to discretize the spectrum at each location/cell as a piecewise power law in ‘bins’ of momentum (or frequency) space. This gives rise to a pair of conserved quantities (e.g. CR number and energy) that are exchanged between cells or bins, which in turn give the update to the normalization and slope of the spectrum in each bin. While these methods can be evolved exactly in momentum-space (e.g. considering injection, absorption, continuous losses/gains), numerical challenges arise dealing with spatial fluxes, if the scattering rates depend on momentum. This has often been treated either by neglecting variation of those rates ‘within the bin,’ or sacrificing conservation – introducing significant errors. Here, we derive a rigorous treatment of these terms, and show that the variation within the bin can be accounted for accurately with a simple set of scalar correction coefficients that can be written entirely in terms of other, explicitly evolved ‘bin-integrated’ quantities. This eliminates the relevant errors without added computational cost, has no effect on the numerical stability of the method, and retains manifest conservation. We derive correction terms both for methods that explicitly integrate flux variables (e.g. two-moment or M1-like) methods, as well as single-moment (advection-diffusion, FLD-like) methods, and approximate corrections valid in various limits.

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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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    Models for cosmic ray (CR) dynamics fundamentally depend on the rate of CR scattering from magnetic fluctuations. In the ISM, for CRs with energies ∼MeV-TeV, these fluctuations are usually attributed either to ‘extrinsic turbulence’ (ET) – a cascade from larger scales – or ‘self-confinement’ (SC) – self-generated fluctuations from CR streaming. Using simple analytic arguments and detailed ‘live’ numerical CR transport calculations in galaxy simulations, we show that both of these, in standard form, cannot explain even basic qualitative features of observed CR spectra. For ET, any spectrum that obeys critical balance or features realistic anisotropy, or any spectrum that accounts for finite damping below the dissipation scale, predicts qualitatively incorrect spectral shapes and scalings of B/C and other species. Even if somehow one ignored both anisotropy and damping, observationally required scattering rates disagree with ET predictions by orders of magnitude. For SC, the dependence of driving on CR energy density means that it is nearly impossible to recover observed CR spectral shapes and scalings, and again there is an orders-of-magnitude normalization problem. But more severely, SC solutions with super-Alfvénic streaming are unstable. In live simulations, they revert to either arbitrarily rapid CR escape with zero secondary production, or to bottleneck solutions with far-too-strong CR confinement and secondary production. Resolving these fundamental issues without discarding basic plasma processes requires invoking different drivers for scattering fluctuations. These must act on a broad range of scales with a power spectrum obeying several specific (but plausible) constraints.

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