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Published February 1, 2023 | Published
Journal Article Open

Cosmic Evolution of Gas and Star Formation


Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) observations of the long-wavelength dust continuum are used to estimate the gas masses in a sample of 708 star-forming galaxies at z = 0.3−4.5. We determine the dependence of gas masses and star formation efficiencies (SFEs; SFR per unit gas mass) on redshift (z), M *, and star formation rate (SFR) relative to the main sequence (MS). We find that 70% of the increase in SFRs of the MS is due to the increased gas masses at earlier epochs, while 30% is due to increased efficiency of star formation (SF). For galaxies above the MS this is reversed—with 70% of the increased SFR relative to the MS being due to elevated SFEs. Thus, the major evolution of star formation activity at early epochs is driven by increased gas masses, while the starburst activity taking galaxies above the MS is due to enhanced triggering of star formation (likely due to galactic merging). The interstellar gas peaks at z = 2 and dominates the stellar mass down to z = 1.2. Accretion rates needed to maintain continuity of the MS evolution reach >100 M_⊙ yr⁻¹ at z > 2. The galactic gas contents are likely the driving determinant for both the rise in SF and AGN activity from z = 5 to their peak at z = 2 and subsequent fall at lower z. We suggest that for self-gravitating clouds with supersonic turbulence, cloud collisions and the filamentary structure of the clouds regulate the star formation activity.

Additional Information

© 2023. The Author(s). Published by the American Astronomical Society. Original content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licence. Any further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author(s) and the title of the work, journal citation and DOI. N.S. wishes to thank his mentors (Phil Solomon and Peter Goldreich) and his colleagues who have made a career in astronomy and astrophysics so enjoyable. Each step in a new direction has been stimulating, with new insights and unsolved problems over the broad range of exploration. The support of the public through funding and their interest and appreciation of the expanding understanding are a constant encouragement. We thank Zara Scoville for proofreading the manuscript and Alvio Renzini for several good suggestions. ALMA is a partnership of ESO (representing its member states), NSF (USA) and NINS (Japan), together with NRC (Canada), NSC and ASIAA (Taiwan), and KASI (Republic of Korea), in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. The Joint ALMA Observatory is operated by ESO, AUI/NRAO and NAOJ. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. S.T. acknowledges support from the European Research Council (ERC) in the form of Consolidator grant, 648179, ConTExt. The Cosmic Dawn Center is funded by the Danish National Research Foundation under grant No. 140.

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August 22, 2023
August 22, 2023