A merger-driven scenario for cosmological disk galaxy formation

Brant Robertson, James S. Bullock, Thomas J. Cox, Tiziana Di Matteo, Lars Hernquist, Volker Springel, Naoki Yoshida

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

440 Scopus citations


The hierarchical nature of the ΛCDM cosmology poses serious difficulties for the formation of disk galaxies. To help resolve these issues, we describe a new, merger-driven scenario for the cosmological formation of disk galaxies at high redshifts that supplements the standard dissipational collapse model. In this picture, large gaseous disks may be produced from high angular momentum mergers of systems that are gas dominated, i.e., Mgas/ (Mgas + M*) ≳ 0.5 at the height of the merger. Pressurization from the multiphase ISM prevents the complete conversion of gas into stars during the merger, and if enough gas remains to form a disk, the remnant eventually resembles a disk galaxy. We perform numerical simulations of galaxy mergers to study how supemovae feedback strength, black hole feedback, progenitor gas fraction, merger mass ratio, and orbital geometry impact the formation of remnant disks. We find that disks can build angular momentum through mergers and the degree of rotational support of the baryons in the remnant is primarily related to feedback processes associated with star formation. Disk-dominated remnants are restricted to form in mergers that are gas dominated at the time of final coalescence. We also show that the formation of rotationally supported stellar systems in mergers is not restricted to idealized orbits, and both gas-rich major and minor mergers can produce disk-dominated stellar remnants. We suggest that the hierarchical nature of the ΛCDM cosmology and the physics of the ISM may act together to form spiral galaxies by building the angular momentum of disks through gas-dominated mergers at high redshifts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)986-1000
Number of pages15
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 I
StatePublished - Jul 10 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: formation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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