The Fates of the Circumgalactic Medium in the FIRE Simulations

Hafen et al., available on arXiv

Abstract: We analyze the different fates of the circumgalactic medium (CGM) in FIRE-2 cosmological simulations, focusing on the redshifts z=0.25 and z=2 representative of recent surveys. Our analysis includes 21 zoom-in simulations covering the halo mass range Mh(z=0) ~ 10^10 – 10^12 Msun. We analyze both where the gas ends up after first leaving the CGM (its “proximate” fate), as well as its location at z=0 (its “ultimate” fate). Of the CGM at z=2, about half is found in the ISM or stars of the central galaxy by z=0 in Mh(z=2) ~ 5e11 Msun halos, but most of the CGM in lower-mass halos ends up in the IGM. This is so even though most of the CGM in M_h(z=2) ~ 5e10 Msun halos first accretes onto the central galaxy before being ejected into the IGM. On the other hand, most of the CGM mass at z=0.25 remains in the CGM by z=0 at all halo masses analyzed. Of the CGM gas that subsequently accretes onto the central galaxy in the progenitors of Mh(z=0) ~10^12 Msun halos, most of it is cool (T~10^4 K) at z=2 but hot (~Tvir) at z=0.25, consistent with the expected transition from cold mode to hot mode accretion. Despite the transition in accretion mode, at both z=0.25 and z=2 >~80% of the cool gas in Mh >~ 10^11 Msun halos will accrete onto a galaxy. We find that the metallicity of CGM gas is typically a poor predictor of both its proximate and ultimate fates. This is because there is in general little correlation between the origin of CGM gas and its fate owing to substantial mixing while in the CGM.