Testing the Recovery of Intrinsic Galaxy Sizes and Masses of z ∼ 2 Massive Galaxies Using Cosmological Simulations

Sedona H. Price, Mariska Kriek, Robert Feldmann, Eliot Quataert, Philip F. Hopkins, Claude André Faucher-Giguère, Dušan Kereš, Guillermo Barro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Accurate measurements of galaxy masses and sizes are key to tracing galaxy evolution over time. Cosmological zoom-in simulations provide an ideal test bed for assessing the recovery of galaxy properties from observations. Here, we utilize galaxies with M∗ ∼ 1010-1011.5 M⊙ at z∼1.7-2 from the MassiveFIRE cosmological simulation suite, part of the Feedback in Realistic Environments (FIRE) project. Using mock multi-band images, we compare intrinsic galaxy masses and sizes to observational estimates. We find that observations accurately recover stellar masses, with a slight average underestimate of ∼0.06 dex and a ∼ 0.15 dex scatter. Recovered half-light radii agree well with intrinsic half-mass radii when averaged over all viewing angles, with a systematic offset of ∼0.1 dex (with the half-light radii being larger) and a scatter of ∼0.2 dex. When using color gradients to account for mass-to-light variations, recovered half-mass radii also exceed the intrinsic half-mass radii by ∼0.1 dex. However, if not properly accounted for, aperture effects can bias size estimates by ∼0.1 dex. No differences are found between the mass and size offsets for star-forming and quiescent galaxies. Variations in viewing angle are responsible for 25% of the scatter in the recovered masses and sizes. Our results thus suggest that the intrinsic scatter in the mass-size relation may have previously been overestimated by 25%. Moreover, orientation-driven scatter causes the number density of very massive galaxies to be overestimated by ∼0.5 dex at M∗ ∼ 1011.5 M⊙.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL6
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 20 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • galaxies: evolution
  • galaxies: high-redshift
  • galaxies: structure


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