Constraints on hydrodynamical subgrid models from quasar absorption line studies of the simulated circumgalactic medium

Cameron B. Hummels, Greg L. Bryan, Britton D. Smith, Matthew J. Turk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cosmological hydrodynamical simulations of galaxy evolution are increasingly able to produce realistic galaxies, but the largest hurdle remaining is in constructing subgrid models that accurately describe the behaviour of stellar feedback. As an alternate way to test and calibrate such models, we propose to focus on the circumgalactic medium (CGM). To do so, we generate a suite of adaptive mesh refinement simulations for a Milky-Way-massed galaxy run to z = 0, systematically varying the feedback implementation. We then post-process the simulation data to compute the absorbing column density for a wide range of common atomic absorbers throughout the galactic halo, including H I, Mg II, Si II, Si III, Si IV, C IV, N V, O VI and O VII. The radial profiles of these atomic column densities are compared against several quasar absorption line studies to determine if one feedback prescription is favoured. We find that although our models match some of the observations (specifically those ions with lower ionization strengths), it is particularly difficult to match O VI observations. There is some indication that the models with increased feedback intensity are better matches. We demonstrate that sufficient metals exist in these haloes to reproduce the observed column density distribution in principle, but the simulated CGM lacks significant multiphase substructure and is generally too hot. Furthermore, we demonstrate the failings of inflow-only models (without energetic feedback) at populating the CGM with adequate metals to match observations even in the presence of multiphase structure. Additionally, we briefly investigate the evolution of the CGM from z = 3 to present. Overall, we find that quasar absorption line observations of the gas around galaxies provide a new and important constraint on feedback models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1548-1565
Number of pages18
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 11 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: formation
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Methods: numerical

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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