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The role of the cosmic web in the scatter of the galaxy stellar mass–gas metallicity relation

Abstract

The large-scale structure of the Universe can be understood in terms of features such as filaments, nodes and walls, which we collectively term the cosmic web. Galaxies evolve within the cosmic web, naturally raising the question of its impact on that process. There are two main mechanisms by which the cosmic web can influence galaxies: one is by modulating the growth of haloes, and the other is by regulating the gas ecosystem around galaxies. Disentangling the two is difficult, but key to deriving a holistic picture of galaxy formation and observational constraints on the growth of haloes. Here we report a detection of the effect of the cosmic web on the galaxy stellar mass–gas-phase metallicity relation of low-redshift star-forming galaxies using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The proximity of a galaxy to a node, independently of stellar mass and overdensity, influences its gas-phase metallicity, with galaxies closer to nodes displaying higher chemical enrichment than those farther away. We find a similar, but notably weaker, effect with respect to filaments. We find qualitative agreement in the cosmological hydrodynamical simulation IllustrisTNG (TNG300). Using IllustrisTNG, our results can be explained by both halo assembly bias and gas supply combining in nodes in a way that markedly modulates the metallicity of the gas, contributing to the scatter of this fundamental relation in galaxy evolution.

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Fig. 1: Mass–metallicity relations in SDSS DR7 split by the distance to filaments and nodes.
Fig. 2: Gas-phase metallicity residuals as function of the distance to filaments and nodes in SDSS DR7.
Fig. 3: Mass–metallicity relations in IllustrisTNG split by the distance to filaments and nodes.
Fig. 4: Gas-phase metallicity residuals as function of the distance to filaments and nodes in IllustrisTNG.
Fig. 5: Gas fraction as function of the distance to filaments and nodes in IllustrisTNG.
Fig. 6: Star-formation and stellar metallicity histories in IllustrisTNG.

Data availability

Data for SDSS DR7 and IllustrisTNG are publicly available at https://wwwmpa.mpa-garching.mpg.de/SDSS/DR7/ and https://www.tng-project.org/data/. DisPerSE catalogues are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Code availability

DisPerSE is publicly available at: http://www2.iap.fr/users/sousbie/web/html/indexba87.html?category/Install. All other code used in this project is available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

Part of this work made use of the Horizon cluster hosted by the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris. We thank S. Rouberol for running it smoothly. K.K. acknowledges support from the DEEPDIP project (grant number ANR-19-CE31-0023). Funding for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey IV was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the US Department of Energy Office of Science and the Participating Institutions. The SDSS acknowledges support and resources from the Center for High-Performance Computing at the University of Utah. The SDSS web site is www.sdss.org. The SDSS is managed by the Astrophysical Research Consortium for the Participating Institutions of the SDSS Collaboration including the Brazilian Participation Group, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Carnegie Mellon University, Center for Astrophysics Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA), the Chilean Participation Group, the French Participation Group, Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, The Johns Hopkins University, Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (IPMU)/University of Tokyo, the Korean Participation Group, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Leibniz Institut für Astrophysik Potsdam (AIP), Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie (MPIA Heidelberg), Max-Planck-Institut für Astrophysik (MPA Garching), Max-Planck-Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik (MPE), National Astronomical Observatories of China, New Mexico State University, New York University, University of Notre Dame, Observatório Nacional/MCTI, The Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Shanghai Astronomical Observatory, United Kingdom Participation Group, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, University of Arizona, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Oxford, University of Portsmouth, University of Utah, University of Virginia, University of Washington, University of Wisconsin, Vanderbilt University and Yale University.

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C.T.D. performed the main analysis of the data. C.T.D., R.T. and K.K. interpreted the results and contributed to the writing of the manuscript. K.K. generated the DisPerSE catalogues.

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Correspondence to Callum T. Donnan.

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Donnan, C.T., Tojeiro, R. & Kraljic, K. The role of the cosmic web in the scatter of the galaxy stellar mass–gas metallicity relation. Nat Astron 6, 599–606 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-022-01619-w

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