Letter | Published:

Suppression of star formation in dwarf galaxies by photoelectric grain heating feedback

Nature volume 535, pages 523525 (28 July 2016) | Download Citation

Abstract

Photoelectric heating—heating of dust grains by far-ultraviolet photons—has long been recognized as the primary source of heating for the neutral interstellar medium1. Simulations of spiral galaxies2 have shown some indication that photoelectric heating could suppress star formation; however, simulations that include photoelectric heating have typically shown that it has little effect on the rate of star formation in either spiral galaxies3,4 or dwarf galaxies5, which suggests that supernovae are responsible for setting the gas depletion time in galaxies6,7,8. This result is in contrast with recent work9,10,11,12,13 indicating that a star formation law that depends on galaxy metallicity—as is expected with photoelectric heating, but not with supernovae—reproduces the present-day galaxy population better than does a metallicity-independent one. Here we report a series of simulations of dwarf galaxies, the class of galaxy in which the effects of both photoelectric heating and supernovae are expected to be strongest. We simultaneously include space- and time-dependent photoelectric heating in our simulations, and we resolve the energy-conserving phase of every supernova blast wave, which allows us to directly measure the relative importance of feedback by supernovae and photoelectric heating in suppressing star formation. We find that supernovae are unable to account for the observed14 large gas depletion times in dwarf galaxies. Instead, photoelectric heating is the dominant means by which dwarf galaxies regulate their star formation rate at any given time, suppressing the rate by more than an order of magnitude relative to simulations with only supernovae.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    Photoelectric heating of interstellar gas. Astrophys. J. Suppl. Ser. 36, 595–619 (1978)

  2. 2.

    Dust-regulated galaxy formation and evolution: a new chemodynamical model with live dust particles. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 449, 1625–1649 (2015)

  3. 3.

    Star formation in disk galaxies. II. The effect of star formation and photoelectric heating on the formation and evolution of giant molecular clouds. Astrophys. J. 730, 11 (2011)

  4. 4.

    , & Star formation in disk galaxies. III. Does stellar feedback result in cloud death? Astrophys. J. 801, 33 (2015)

  5. 5.

    , , , & Star formation and molecular hydrogen in dwarf galaxies: a non-equilibrium view. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 458, 3528–3553 (2016)

  6. 6.

    , & Self-regulated star formation in galaxies via momentum input from massive stars. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 417, 950–973 (2011)

  7. 7.

    , & The meaning and consequences of star formation criteria in galaxy models with resolved stellar feedback. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 432, 2647–2653 (2013)

  8. 8.

    & How stellar feedback simultaneously regulates star formation and drives outflows. Preprint at (2015)

  9. 9.

    , & The atomic-to-molecular transition in galaxies. II: H i and H2 column densities. Astrophys. J. 693, 216–235 (2009)

  10. 10.

    & Metallicity-dependent quenching of star formation at high redshift in small galaxies. Astrophys. J. 753, 16 (2012)

  11. 11.

    et al. Implementing molecular hydrogen in hydrodynamic simulations of galaxy formation. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 425, 3058–3076 (2012)

  12. 12.

    The star formation law in molecule-poor galaxies. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 436, 2747–2762 (2013)

  13. 13.

    , , , & Galaxy luminosity function and its cosmological evolution: testing a new feedback model depending on galaxy-scale dust opacity. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 441, 63–72 (2014)

  14. 14.

    et al. Little things. Astron. J. 144, 134 (2012)

  15. 15.

    et al. A constant molecular gas depletion time in nearby disk galaxies. Astrophys. J. 730, L13 (2011)

  16. 16.

    et al. ENZO: an adaptive mesh refinement code for astrophysics. Astrophys. J. Suppl. Ser. 211, 19 (2014)

  17. 17.

    , , , & A direct measurement of the baryonic mass function of galaxies and implications for the galactic baryon fraction. Astrophys. J. 759, 138 (2012)

  18. 18.

    , & Mass loss of galaxies due to an ultraviolet background. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 390, 920–928 (2008)

  19. 19.

    & The origin of dwarf galaxies, cold dark matter, and biased galaxy formation. Astrophys. J. 303, 39–55 (1986)

  20. 20.

    et al. (Almost) dark HI Sources in the ALFALFA survey: the intriguing case of HI1232+20. Astrophys. J. 801, 96 (2015)

  21. 21.

    & Short 21-cm WSRT observations of spiral and irregular galaxies. H i properties. Astron. Astrophys. 324, 877–887 (1997)

  22. 22.

    Dissipational galaxy formation. II. Effects of star formation. Astrophys. J. 391, 502–517 (1992)

  23. 23.

    et al. yt: a multi-code analysis toolkit for astrophysical simulation data. Astrophys. J. Suppl. Ser. 192, 9 (2011)

  24. 24.

    et al. The ALFALFA “Almost Darks” campaign: pilot VLA H i observations of five high mass-to-light ratio systems. Astron. J. 149, 72 (2015)

  25. 25.

    , & An analytic model for the evolution of the stellar, gas and metal content of galaxies. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 421, 98–107 (2012)

  26. 26.

    , , , & Gas regulation of galaxies: the evolution of the cosmic specific star formation rate, the metallicity-mass-star-formation rate relation, and the stellar content of halos. Astrophys. J. 772, 119 (2013)

  27. 27.

    , , & On the origin of the fundamental metallicity relation and the scatter in galaxy scaling relations. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 443, 168–185 (2014)

  28. 28.

    , & Mass transport and turbulence in gravitationally unstable disk galaxies. I. The case of pure self-gravity. Astrophys. J. 814, 131 (2015)

  29. 29.

    & Tidal tails in cold dark matter cosmologies. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 307, 162–178 (1999)

  30. 30.

    et al. Starburst99: synthesis models for galaxies with active star formation. Astrophys. J. Suppl. Ser. 123, 3–40 (1999)

  31. 31.

    Galactic stellar and substellar initial mass function. Publ. Astron. Soc. Pac. 115, 763–795 (2003)

  32. 32.

    , , & Energy input and mass redistribution by supernovae in the interstellar medium. Astrophys. J. 500, 95–119 (1998)

  33. 33.

    et al. The stellar initial mass function of ultra-faint dwarf galaxies: evidence for IMF variations with galactic environment. Astrophys. J. 771, 29 (2013)

  34. 34.

    The interstellar radiation density between 912 Å and 2400 Å. Bull. Astron. Inst. Netherlands 19, 421–431 (1968)

  35. 35.

    , , & Neutral atomic phases of the interstellar medium in the galaxy. Astrophys. J. 587, 278–311 (2003)

  36. 36.

    et al. The AGORA high-resolution galaxy simulations comparison project. Astrophys. J. Suppl. Ser. 210, 14 (2014)

  37. 37.

    The Grackle Library.

  38. 38.

    et al. Forged in FIRE: cusps, cores and baryons in low-mass dwarf galaxies. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 454, 2092–2106 (2015)

  39. 39.

    Formation of ultra-compact blue dwarf galaxies and their evolution into nucleated dwarfs. Astrophys. J. 812, L14 (2015)

  40. 40.

    Formation of emission line dots and extremely metal-deficient dwarfs from almost dark galaxies. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 454, L41–L45 (2015)

  41. 41.

    et al. Self-gravitational hydrodynamics with three-dimensional adaptive mesh refinement: methodology and applications to molecular cloud collapse and fragmentation. Astrophys. J. 495, 821–852 (1998)

  42. 42.

    & Slow star formation in dense gas: evidence and implications. Astrophys. J. 654, 304–315 (2007)

  43. 43.

    , & A universal, local star formation law in galactic clouds, nearby galaxies, high-redshift disks, and starbursts. Astrophys. J. 745, 69 (2012)

  44. 44.

    & Toward a unification of star formation rate determinations in the Milky Way and other galaxies. Astron. J. 142, 197 (2011)

Download references

Acknowledgements

J.C.F. and M.R.K. acknowledge support from Hubble Archival Research grant HST-AR-13909. This work was also supported by NSF grants AST-09553300 and AST-1405962, NASA ATP grant NNX13AB84G and NASA TCAN grant NNX14AB52G (J.C.F., M.R.K. and N.J.G.), and by Australian Research Council grant DP160100695. A.D. acknowledges support from the grants ISF 124/12, I-CORE Program of the PBC/ISF 1829/12, BSF 2014-273 and NSF AST-1405962. Simulations were carried out on NASA Pleiades and the UCSC supercomputer Hyades, supported by NSF grant AST-1229745.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of California, Santa Cruz, California 95064, USA

    • John C. Forbes
    •  & Mark R. Krumholz
  2. Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2611, Australia

    • Mark R. Krumholz
  3. National Center for Supercomputing Applications, University of Illinois, 1205 West Clark Street, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois 61820, USA

    • Nathan J. Goldbaum
  4. Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Sciences, Racah Institute of Physics, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem 91904, Israel

    • Avishai Dekel

Authors

  1. Search for John C. Forbes in:

  2. Search for Mark R. Krumholz in:

  3. Search for Nathan J. Goldbaum in:

  4. Search for Avishai Dekel in:

Contributions

J.C.F. and N.J.G. developed modifications to the publicly available Enzo code used in this work. The code was run and the results were analysed by J.C.F. The manuscript was written by J.C.F. and edited by all authors. The work was supervised and routinely advised by M.R.K. and A.D.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to John C. Forbes.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks R. Makiya and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Extended data

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature18292

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.