The Origin and Evolution of the Galaxy Mass-Metallicity Relation

In another recent paper led by Xiangcheng Ma, we use the FIRE simulations to study the origin of the mass-metallicity relation in galaxies. The mass-metallicity relation provides an especially powerful test of galaxy formation models because different state-of-the-art galaxy formation models that all reproduce the observed galaxy stellar mass function diverge strongly on their predictions for the mass-metallicity relation (as shown e.g. in the recent review by R. Somerville and R. Davé). Remarkably, the FIRE simulations reproduce the normalization, slope, and redshift evolution of the observed mass-metallicity relation, over five orders of magnitude in stellar mass, without the need to tune any parameter.

Abstract: We use high-resolution cosmological zoom-in simulations from the Feedback in Realistic Environment (FIRE) project to study the galaxy mass-metallicity relations (MZR) from z=0-6. These simulations include explicit models of the multi-phase ISM, star formation, and stellar feedback. The simulations cover halo masses Mhalo=10^9-10^13 Msun and stellar mass Mstar=10^4-10^11 Msun at z=0 and have been shown to produce many observed galaxy properties from z=0-6. For the first time, our simulations agree reasonably well with the observed mass-metallicity relations at z=0-3 for a broad range of galaxy masses. We predict the evolution of the MZR from z=0-6 as log(Zgas/Zsun)=12+log(O/H)-9.0=0.35[log(Mstar/Msun)-10]+0.93 exp(-0.43 z)-1.05 and log(Zstar/Zsun)=[Fe/H]-0.2=0.40[log(Mstar/Msun)-10]+0.67 exp(-0.50 z)-1.04, for gas-phase and stellar metallicity, respectively. Our simulations suggest that the evolution of MZR is associated with the evolution of stellar/gas mass fractions at different redshifts, indicating the existence of a universal metallicity relation between stellar mass, gas mass, and metallicities. In our simulations, galaxies above Mstar=10^6 Msun are able to retain a large fraction of their metals inside the halo, because metal-rich winds fail to escape completely and are recycled into the galaxy. This resolves a long-standing discrepancy between “sub-grid” wind models (and semi-analytic models) and observations, where common sub-grid models cannot simultaneously reproduce the MZR and the stellar mass functions.