The birth of a galaxy: Primordial metal enrichment and stellar populations

John H. Wise, Matthew J. Turk, Michael L. Norman, Tom Abel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


By definition, Population III stars are metal-free, and their protostellar collapse is driven by molecular hydrogen cooling in the gas phase, leading to large characteristic masses. Population II stars with lower characteristic masses form when the star-forming gas reaches a critical metallicity of 10 -6-10-3.5 Z. We present an adaptive mesh refinement radiation hydrodynamics simulation that follows the transition from Population III to Population II star formation. The maximum spatial resolution of 1 comoving parsec allows for individual molecular clouds to be well resolved and their stellar associations to be studied in detail. We model stellar radiative feedback with adaptive ray tracing. A top-heavy initial mass function for the Population III stars is considered, resulting in a plausible distribution of pair-instability supernovae and associated metal enrichment. We find that the gas fraction recovers from 5% to nearly the cosmic fraction in halos with merger histories rich in halos above 107 M . A single pair-instability supernova is sufficient to enrich the host halo to a metallicity floor of 10-3Z and to transition to Population II star formation. This provides a natural explanation for the observed floor on damped Lyα systems metallicities reported in the literature, which is of this order. We find that stellar metallicities do not necessarily trace stellar ages, as mergers of halos with established stellar populations can create superpositions of t-Z evolutionary tracks. A bimodal metallicity distribution is created after a starburst occurs when the halo can cool efficiently through atomic line cooling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number50
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 20 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • dark ages, reionization, first stars
  • galaxies: dwarf
  • galaxies: high-redshift
  • galaxies: star formation
  • radiative transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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