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We study the vertical structure of polytropic centrifugally supported gaseous discs embedded in cold dark matter (CDM) haloes. At fixed radius, R, the shape of the vertical density profile depends weakly on whether the disc is self-gravitating (SG) or non-self-gravitating (NSG). The disc 'characteristic' thickness, zH, set by the midplane sound speed and circular velocity, zNSG = (cs/Vc)R, in the NSG case, and by the sound speed and surface density, zSG = cs 2/GΣ, in SG discs, is smaller than zSG and zNSG. SG discs are typically Toomre unstable, NSG discs are stable. Exponential discs in CDM haloes with roughly flat circular velocity curves 'flare' outwards. Flares in mono abundance or coeval populations in galaxies like the Milky Way are thus not necessarily due to radial migration. For the polytropic equation of state of the Evolution and Assembly of GaLaxies and their Environments (EAGLE) simulations, discs that match observational constraints are NSG for Md < 3 × 109M⊙ and SG at higher masses, if fully gaseous. We test these analytic results using a set of idealized smoothed particle hydrodynamic simulations and find excellent agreement. Our results clarify the role of the gravitational softening on the thickness of simulated discs, and on the onset of radial instabilities. EAGLE low-mass discs are NSG so the softening plays no role in their vertical structure. High-mass discs are expected to beSGand unstable, and may be artificially thickened and stabilized unless gravity is well resolved. Simulations with spatial resolution high enough to not compromise the vertical structure of a disc also resolve the onset of their instabilities, but the converse is not true.
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