Journal Article

Is AGN feedback necessary to form red elliptical galaxies?

A. Khalatyan, A. Cattaneo, M. Schramm, S. Gottlöber, M. Steinmetz and L. Wisotzki

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 387, issue 1, pages 13-30
Published in print June 2008 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online May 2008 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2966.2008.13093.x
Is AGN feedback necessary to form red elliptical galaxies?

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We have used the smoothed particle hydrodynamics (SPH) code gadget-2 to simulate the formation of an elliptical galaxy in a group-size cosmological dark matter halo with mass Mhalo≃ 3 × 1012h−1M at z= 0. The use of a stellar population synthesis model has allowed us to compute magnitudes, colours and surface brightness profiles. We have included a model to follow the growth of a central black hole and we have compared the results of simulations with and without feedback from active galactic nuclei (AGN). We have studied the interplay between cold gas accretion and merging in the development of galactic morphologies, the link between colour and morphology evolution, the effect of AGN feedback on the photometry of early-type galaxies, the redshift evolution in the properties of quasar hosts, and the impact of AGN winds on the chemical enrichment of the intergalactic medium (IGM).

We have found that the early phases of galaxy formation are driven by the accretion of cold filamentary flows, which form a disc galaxy at the centre of the dark matter halo. Disc star formation rates in this mode of galaxy growth are about as high as the peak star formation rates attained at a later epoch in galaxy mergers. When the dark matter halo is sufficiently massive to support the propagation of a stable shock, the gas in the filaments is heated to the virial temperature, cold accretion is shut down, and the star formation rate begins to decline.

Mergers transform the spiral galaxy into an elliptical one, but they also reactivate star formation by bringing gas into the galaxy. Without a mechanism that removes gas from the merger remnants, the galaxy ends up with blue colours, which are atypical for its elliptical morphology. We have demonstrated that AGN feedback can solve this problem even with a fairly low heating efficiency. Our simulations support a picture where AGN feedback is important for quenching star formation in the remnant of wet mergers and for moving them to the red sequence. This picture is consistent with recent observational results, which suggest that AGN hosts are galaxies in migration from the blue cloud to the red sequence on the colour–magnitude diagram. However, we have also seen a transition in the properties of AGN hosts from blue and star forming at z∼ 2 to mainly red and dead at z∼ 0. Ongoing merging is the primary but not the only triggering mechanism for luminous AGN activity.

Quenching by AGN is only effective after the cold filaments have dried out, since otherwise the galaxy is constantly replenished with gas. AGN feedback also contributes to raising the entropy of the hot IGM by removing low-entropy tails vulnerable to developing cooling flows. We have also demonstrated that AGN winds are potentially important for the metal enrichment of the IGM a high redshift.

Keywords: galaxies: active; cooling flows; galaxies: evolution; galaxies: formation; intergalactic medium

Journal Article.  11077 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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