Formation of massive galaxies at high redshift: Cold streams, clumpy disks, and compact spheroids

Avishai Dekel*, Re'Em Sari, Daniel Ceverino

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

784 Scopus citations


We present a simple theoretical framework for massive galaxies at high redshift, where the main assembly and star formation occurred, and report on the first cosmological simulations that reveal clumpy disks consistent with our analysis. The evolution is governed by the interplay between smooth and clumpy cold streams, disk instability, and bulge formation. Intense, relatively smooth streams maintain an unstable dense gas-rich disk. Instability with high turbulence and giant clumps, each a few percent of the disk mass, is self-regulated by gravitational interactions within the disk. The clumps migrate into a bulge in ≲10 dynamical times, or ≲0.5 Gyr. The cosmological streams replenish the draining disk and prolong the clumpy phase to several Gigayears in a steady state, with comparable masses in disk, bulge, and dark matter within the disk radius. The clumps form stars in dense subclumps following the overall accretion rate, 100 M yr-1, and each clump converts into stars in 0.5 Gyr. While the clumps coalesce dissipatively to a compact bulge, the star-forming disk is extended because the incoming streams keep the outer disk dense and susceptible to instability and because of angular momentum transport. Passive spheroid-dominated galaxies form when the streams are more clumpy: the external clumps merge into a massive bulge and stir up disk turbulence that stabilize the disk and suppress in situ clump and star formation. We predict a bimodality in galaxy type by z 3, involving giant-clump star-forming disks and spheroid-dominated galaxies of suppressed star formation. After z 1, the disks tend to be stabilized by the dominant stellar disks and bulges. Most of the high-z massive disks are likely to end up as today's early-type galaxies.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)785-801
Number of pages17
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009


  • Galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD
  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: formation
  • Galaxies: halos
  • Galaxies: spiral


Dive into the research topics of 'Formation of massive galaxies at high redshift: Cold streams, clumpy disks, and compact spheroids'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this