We point out a natural mechanism for quenching of star formation in early-type galaxies (ETGs). It automatically links the color of a galaxy with its morphology and does not require gas consumption, removal or termination of gas supply. Given that star formation takes place in gravitationally unstable gas disks, it can be quenched when a disk becomes stable against fragmentation to bound clumps. This can result from the growth of a stellar spheroid, for instance by mergers. We present the concept of morphological quenching (MQ) using standard disk instability analysis, and demonstrate its natural occurrence in a cosmological simulation using an efficient zoom-in technique. We show that the transition from a stellar disk to a spheroid can be sufficient to stabilize the gas disk, quench star formation, and turn an ETG red and dead while gas accretion continues. The turbulence necessary for disk stability can be stirred up by sheared perturbations within the disk in the absence of bound star-forming clumps. While other quenching mechanisms, such as gas stripping, active galactic nucleus feedback, virial shock heating, and gravitational heating are limited to massive halos, MQ can explain the appearance of red ETGs also in halos less massive than ∼ 1012 M ⊙. The dense gas disks observed in some of today's red ellipticals may be the relics of this mechanism, whereas red galaxies with quenched gas disks could be more frequent at high redshift.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science
- Galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD
- Galaxies: evolution
- Galaxies: formation