Collapse barriers and halo abundance: Testing the excursion set ansatz

Brant E. Robertson, Andrey V. Kravtsov, Jeremy Tinker, Andrew R. Zentner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


Our heuristic understanding of the abundance of dark matter halos centers around the concept of a density threshold, or "barrier," for gravitational collapse. If one adopts the ansatz that regions of the linearly evolved density field smoothed on mass scale M with an overdensity that exceeds the barrier will undergo gravitational collapse into halos of mass M, the corresponding abundance of such halos can be estimated simply as a fraction of the mass density satisfying the collapse criterion divided by the mass M. The key ingredient of this ansatz is therefore the functional form of the collapse barrier as a function of mass M or, equivalently, of the variance σ2(M). Several such barriers based on the spherical, Zel'dovich, and ellipsoidal collapse models have been extensively discussed. Using large-scale cosmological simulations, we show that the relation between the linear overdensity and the mass variance for regions that collapse to form halos by the present epoch resembles expectations from dynamical models of ellipsoidal collapse. However, we also show that using such a collapse barrier with the excursion set ansatz predicts a halo mass function inconsistent with that measured directly in cosmological simulations. This inconsistency demonstrates a failure of the excursion set ansatz as a physical model for halo collapse. We discuss implications of our results for understanding the collapse epoch for halos as a function of mass, and avenues for improving consistency between analytical models for the collapse epoch and the results of cosmological simulations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)636-652
Number of pages17
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2009


  • Dark matter
  • Galaxies: formation
  • Galaxies: halos
  • Methods: N-body simulations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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