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Published April 2023 | Published
Journal Article Open

Exploring supermassive black hole physics and galaxy quenching across halo mass in FIRE cosmological zoom simulations


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.

Additional Information

© 2023 The Author(s) Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Royal Astronomical Society. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model). SW was supported by an NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship under award AST2001905. CAFG was supported by NSF through grants AST-1715216, AST-2108230, and CAREER award AST-1652522; by NASA through grants 17-ATP17-0067 and 21-ATP21-0036; by STScI through grants HST-AR-16124.001-A and HST-GO-16730.016-A; by CXO through grant TM2-23005X; and by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement through a Cottrell Scholar Award. Support for PFH was provided by NSF Research Grants 1911233, 20009234, 2108318, NSF CAREER grant 1455342, NASA grants 80NSSC18K0562 and HST-AR-15800. Numerical calculations were run on the Caltech compute cluster 'Wheeler', allocations AST21010 and AST20016 supported by the NSF and TACC, and NASA HEC SMD-16-7592. EQ was supported in part by a Simons Investigator grant from the Simons Foundation and NSF AST grant 2107872. DAA acknowledges support by NSF grants AST-2009687 and AST-2108944, CXO grant TM2-23006X, and Simons Foundation award CCA-1018464. RF acknowledges financial support from the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant no 194814). DK was supported by NSF through grants AST-1715101 and AST2108314. AW received support from the NSF via CAREER award AST-2045928 and grant AST-2107772; NASA ATP grant 80NSSC20K0513; HST grants AR-15809 and GO-15902 from STScI. This work was performed in part at the Aspen Center for Physics, which is supported by National Science Foundation grant PHY-1607611. The data used in this work were, in part, hosted on facilities supported by the Scientific Computing Core at the Flatiron Institute, a division of the Simons Foundation. DATA AVAILABILITY. The data supporting the plots within this article are available on reasonable request to the corresponding author. A public version of the GIZMO code is available at http://www.tapir.caltech.edu/∼phopkins/Site/GIZMO.html. Additional data including simulation snapshots, initial conditions, and derived data products are available at https://fire.northwestern.edu/data/.

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August 22, 2023
August 22, 2023