The origin of the light distribution in spiral galaxies

Sanchez-blazquez, P., Courty, S., Gibson, B. K. orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-4446-3130 and Brook, C. B. (2009) The origin of the light distribution in spiral galaxies. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 398 (2). pp. 591-606. ISSN 00358711

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We analyse a high-resolution, fully cosmological, hydrodynamical disc galaxy simulation, to study the source of the double-exponential light profiles seen in many stellar discs, and the effects of stellar radial migration upon the spatiotemporal evolution of both the disc age and metallicity distributions. We find a ‘break’ in the pure exponential stellar surface brightness profile, and trace its origin to a sharp decrease in the star formation per unit surface area, itself produced by a decrease in the gas volume density due to a warping of the gas disc. Star formation in the disc continues well beyond the break. We find that the break is more pronounced in bluer wavebands. By contrast, we find little or no break in the mass density profile. This is, in part, due to the net radial migration of stars towards the external parts of the disc. Beyond the break radius, we find that ∼60 per cent of the resident stars migrated from the inner disc, while ∼25 per cent formed in situ. Our simulated galaxy also has a minimum in the age profile at the break radius but, in disagreement with some previous studies, migration is not the main mechanism producing this shape. In our simulation, the disc metallicity gradient flattens with time, consistent with an ‘inside-out’ formation scenario. We do not find any difference in the intensity or the position of the break with inclination, suggesting that perhaps the differences found in empirical studies are driven by dust extinction.

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