Molecular Gas and Star Formation in Nearby Starburst Galaxy Mergers Academic Article uri icon

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  • Abstract We employ the Feedback In Realistic Environments (FIRE-2) physics model to study how the properties of giant molecular clouds (GMCs) evolve during galaxy mergers. We conduct a pixel-by-pixel analysis of molecular gas properties in both the simulated control galaxies and galaxy major mergers. The simulated GMC pixels in the control galaxies follow a similar trend in a diagram of velocity dispersion (σ v ) versus gas surface density (Σmol) to the one observed in local spiral galaxies in the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) survey. For GMC pixels in simulated mergers, we see a significant increase of a factor of 5–10 in both Σmol and σ v , which puts these pixels above the trend of PHANGS galaxies in the σ v versus Σmol diagram. This deviation may indicate that GMCs in the simulated mergers are much less gravitationally bound compared with simulated control galaxies with virial parameters (α vir) reaching 10–100. Furthermore, we find that the increase in α vir happens at the same time as the increase in global star formation rate, which suggests that stellar feedback is responsible for dispersing the gas. We also find that the gas depletion time is significantly lower for high-α vir GMCs during a starburst event. This is in contrast to the simple physical picture that low-α vir GMCs are easier to collapse and form stars on shorter depletion times. This might suggest that some other physical mechanisms besides self-gravity are helping the GMCs in starbursting mergers collapse and form stars.


  • He, Hao
  • Bottrell, Connor
  • Wilson, Christine D
  • Moreno, Jorge
  • Burkhart, Blakesley
  • Hayward, Christopher C
  • Hernquist, Lars
  • Twum, Angela

publication date

  • June 1, 2023