Environmental Dependence of Self-regulating Black Hole Feedback in Massive Galaxies

In The Astrophysical Journal

In the universe’s most massive galaxies, active galactic nucleus (AGN) feedback appears to limit star formation. The accumulation of cold gas near the central black hole fuels powerful AGN outbursts, keeping the ambient medium in a state marginally unstable to condensation and formation of cold gas clouds. However, the ability of that mechanism to self-regulate may depend on numerous environmental factors, including the depth of the potential well and the pressure of the surrounding circumgalactic medium (CGM). Here we present a suite of numerical simulations, with halo mass ranging from $2\times10^{12} M_\odot$ to $8\times10^{14} M_\odot$, exploring the dependence of AGN feedback on those environmental factors. We include the spatially extended mass and energy input from the massive galaxy’s old stellar population capable of sweeping gas out of the galaxy if the confining CGM pressure is sufficiently low. Our simulations show that this feedback mechanism is tightly self-regulating in a massive galaxy with a deep central potential and low CGM pressure, permitting only small amounts of multiphase gas to accumulate and allowing no star formation. In a similar-mass galaxy with shallower central potential and greater CGM pressure the feedback mechanism is more episodic, producing extended multiphase gas and allowing small rates of star formation ($\sim0.1 M_\odot \text{yr}^{−1}$). At the low-mass end, the mechanism becomes implausibly explosive, perhaps because the CGM initially has no angular momentum, which would have reduced the amount of condensed gas capable of fueling feedback.

Forrest Glines
Forrest Glines
Metropolis Postdoctoral Fellow in Exascale Computational Astrophysics

Developing exascale-capable performance-portable astrophysics simulations