We use the FIRE-2 cosmological simulations to study the formation of a quasi-static, virial-temperature gas phase in the circumgalactic medium (CGM) at redshifts 0 < z < 5 and how the formation of this virialized phase affects the evolution of galactic disks. We demonstrate that when the halo mass crosses ∼1012 Me, the cooling time of shocked gas in the inner CGM (∼0.1Rvir, where Rvir is the virial radius) exceeds the local free-fall time. The inner CGM then experiences a transition from on average subvirial temperatures (T = Tvir), large pressure fluctuations, and supersonic inflow/outflow velocities to virial temperatures (T ∼ Tvir), uniform pressures, and subsonic velocities. This transition occurs when the outer CGM (∼0.5Rvir) is already subsonic and has a temperature ∼Tvir, indicating that the longer cooling times at large radii allow the outer CGM to virialize at lower halo masses than the inner CGM. This outside-in CGM virialization scenario is in contrast with inside-out scenarios commonly envisioned based on more idealized simulations. We demonstrate that inner CGM virialization coincides with abrupt changes in the central galaxy and its stellar feedback: the galaxy settles into a stable rotating disk, star formation transitions from “bursty” to “steady,” and stellar-driven galaxy-scale outflows are suppressed. Our results thus suggest that CGM virialization is initially associated with the formation of rotation-dominated thin galactic disks, rather than with the quenching of star formation as often assumed.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science