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The evolution of galaxies from primeval irregulars to present-day ellipticals

Nature volume 440, pages 644647 (30 March 2006) | Download Citation



Galaxy formation is believed to proceed in a ‘bottom up’ manner, starting with the formation of small clumps of gas and stars that then merge hierarchically into giant systems1,2. The baryonic gas loses thermal energy by radiative cooling and falls towards the centres of the new galaxies, while supernovae blow gas out3,4. Any realistic model therefore requires a proper treatment of these processes, but hitherto this has been far from satisfactory5. Here we report a simulation that follows evolution from the earliest stages of galaxy formation through the period of dynamical relaxation, at which point the resulting galaxy is in its final form. The bubble structures of gas revealed in our simulation (for times of less than 3 × 108 years) resemble closely high-redshift Lyman-α emitters6,7. After 109 years, these bodies are dominated by stellar continuum radiation and then resemble the Lyman break galaxies8,9, which are high-redshift star-forming galaxies. At this point, the abundance of elements heavier than helium (‘metallicity’) appears to be solar. After 1.3 × 1010 years, these galaxies resemble present-day ellipticals.

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We thank Y. Matsuda and his collaborators for use of observational data obtained by the Subaru Telescope, and are grateful to M. Rich, M. Malkan, I. Saviane, Y. Yoshii and R. Ellis for suggestions. M.M. thanks the University of California Los Angeles for hospitality, and acknowledges the support of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and of the Promotion and Mutual Aid Corporation for Private Schools of Japan. M.U. acknowledges the support of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology of Japan. The simulations were performed with the Earth Simulator at JAMSTEC, the SPACE at Senshu University, and the computational facilities including CP-PACS at CCS in the University of Tsukuba.

Author information


  1. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90095-1547, USA

    • Masao Mori
  2. Institute of Natural Sciences, Senshu University, Kawasaki, Kanagawa 214-8580, Japan

    • Masao Mori
  3. Center for Computational Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-8577, Japan

    • Masayuki Umemura


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Competing interests

Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Masao Mori.

Supplementary information

Word documents

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Methods

    This document describes the initial condition of the present model and our dynamical, chemical, and spectrophotometric scheme to explore the formation and evolution of elliptical galaxies including star formation and supernova feedback.


  1. 1.

    Supplementary Video 1

    This animation visualizes the logarithmic gas density distribution of the simulated galaxy. Simulation box has a physical size of 134 kpc and the number density ranges from 10-4 cm-3 (red) to 1 cm-3 (blue).

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