Compaction and quenching of high-z galaxies in cosmological simulations: Blue and red nuggets

Adi Zolotov*, Avishai Dekel, Nir Mandelker, Dylan Tweed, Shigeki Inoue, Colin DeGraf, Daniel Ceverino, Joel R. Primack, Guillermo Barro, Sandra M. Faber

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

380 Scopus citations


We use cosmological simulations to study a characteristic evolution pattern of high-redshift galaxies. Early, stream-fed, highly perturbed, gas-rich discs undergo phases of dissipative contraction into compact, star-forming systems ('blue' nuggets) at z ~ 4-2. The peak of gas compaction marks the onset of central gas depletion and inside-out quenching into compact ellipticals (red nuggets) by z ~ 2. These are sometimes surrounded by gas rings or grow extended dry stellar envelopes. The compaction occurs at a roughly constant specific star formation rate (SFR), and the quenching occurs at a constant stellar surface density within the inner kpc (∑1). Massive galaxies quench earlier, faster, and at a higher ∑1 than lower mass galaxies, which compactify and attempt to quench more than once. This evolution pattern is consistent with the way galaxies populate the SFR-size-mass space, and with gradients and scatter across the main sequence. The compaction is triggered by an intense inflow episode, involving (mostly minor) mergers, counter-rotating streams or recycled gas, and is commonly associated with violent disc instability. The contraction is dissipative, with the inflow rate >SFR, and the maximum ∑1 anticorrelated with the initial spin parameter. The central quenching is triggered by the high SFR and stellar/supernova feedback (maybe also active galactic nucleus feedback) due to the high central gas density, while the central inflow weakens as the disc vanishes. Suppression of fresh gas supply by a hot halo allows the longterm maintenance of quenching once above a threshold halo mass, inducing the quenching downsizing.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2327-2353
Number of pages27
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 The Authors.


  • Galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD
  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: formation
  • Galaxies: kinematics and dynamics
  • Galaxies: spiral


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