Live Fast, Die Young: GMC lifetimes in the FIRE cosmological simulations of Milky Way-mass galaxies

Benincasa et al., available on arXiv

Abstract: We present the first measurement of the lifetimes of Giant Molecular Clouds (GMCs) in cosmological simulations at z=0, using the Latte suite of FIRE-2 simulations of Milky Way-mass galaxies. We track GMCs with total gas mass >~10^5 Msun at high spatial (~1 pc), mass (7100 Msun), and temporal (1 Myr) resolution. Our simulated GMCs are consistent with the distribution of masses for massive GMCs in the Milky Way and nearby galaxies. We find GMC lifetimes of 5-7 Myr, or 1-2 freefall times, on average, with less than 1% of clouds living longer than 20 Myr. We find increasing GMC lifetimes with galactocentric radius, implying that environment affects the evolutionary cycle of GMCs. However, our GMC lifetimes show no systematic dependence on GMC mass or amount of star formation. These results are broadly consistent with inferences from the literature and provide an initial investigation into ultimately understanding the physical processes that govern GMC lifetimes in a cosmological setting.