The diverse progenitors and descendants of (compact elliptical) galaxies in cosmological simulations

Sarah Wellons (Harvard CfA) - September 19, 2016 at 12:10 pm

Observations of the high-redshift universe have revealed a population of galaxies which are already very massive (~10^11 Msun at z=2) and have typical sizes of < 2 kpc, much smaller than their counterparts in the local universe. How such dense, massive galaxies form, and why they appear to be less common at low redshift, have been questions of interest for both theorists and observers. I will discuss these questions in the context of the Illustris simulation, a hydrodynamical cosmological simulation in which tens of thousands of galaxies form, evolve, and interact with each other, situated within a cosmological context. I select a group of massive compact galaxies at z=2 in the simulation and trace them back and forth in time to discover both how they formed at high redshift, and what they evolve into at the present day. I find a variety of both progenitors (our compact galaxies form either via central starbursts generally brought on by mergers, or by racing out to the tip of the SF main sequence and forming very early) and descendants (many formerly-compact galaxies lurk at the core of a more massive galaxy today, others were consumed in mergers, and some evolve passively and undisturbed). Finally, I will discuss the implications of these results for observational methods of connecting galaxy populations across redshifts - in particular, the assumption of a constant cumulative comoving number density - and suggest an improvement to this method which takes the complexity and variety of galaxies' evolutionary paths into account.

The seminar will be held in 131A Campbell Hall.

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