Using galaxy pairs to probe star formation during major halo mergers

Peter S. Behroozi, Guangtun Zhu, Henry C. Ferguson, Andrew P. Hearin, Jennifer Lotz, Joseph Silk, Susan Kassin, Yu Lu, Darren Croton, Rachel S. Somerville, Douglas F. Watson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Currently-proposed galaxy quenching mechanisms predict very different behaviours during major halo mergers, ranging from significant quenching enhancement (e.g. clump-induced gravitational heating models) to significant star formation enhancement (e.g. gas starvation models). To test real galaxies' behaviour, we present an observational galaxy pair method for selecting galaxies whose host haloes are preferentially undergoing major mergers. Applying themethod to central L* (1010M* <M* <1010.5M*) galaxies in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey at z < 0.06, we find that major halo mergers can at most modestly reduce the star-forming fraction, from 59 to 47 per cent. Consistent with past research, however, mergers accompany enhanced specific star formation rates for star-forming L* centrals: ~10 per cent when a paired galaxy is within 200 kpc (approximately the host halo's virial radius), climbing to ~70 per cent when a paired galaxy is within 30 kpc. No evidence is seen for even extremely close pairs (<30 kpc separation) rejuvenating star formation in quenched galaxies. For galaxy formation models, our results suggest: (1) quenching in L* galaxies likely begins due to decoupling of the galaxy from existing hot and cold gas reservoirs, rather than a lack of available gas or gravitational heating from infalling clumps, (2) state-of-the-art semi-analytic models currently overpredict the effect of major halo mergers on quenching, and (3) major halo mergers can trigger enhanced star formation in non-quenched central galaxies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1546-1564
Number of pages19
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 10 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Galaxies: formation
  • Galaxies: haloes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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