Feedback first: The surprisingly weak effects of magnetic fields, viscosity, conduction and metal diffusion on sub-L* galaxy formation

Kung Yi Su*, Philip F. Hopkins, Christopher C. Hayward, Claude André Faucher-Giguère, Dušan Kereš, Xiangcheng Ma, Victor H. Robles

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

115 Scopus citations


Using high-resolution simulations with explicit treatment of stellar feedback physics based on the FIRE (Feedback In Realistic Environments) project, we study how galaxy formation and the interstellar medium (ISM) are affected by magnetic fields, anisotropic Spitzer-Braginskii conduction and viscosity, and sub-grid metal diffusion from unresolved turbulence. We consider controlled simulations of isolated (non-cosmological) galaxies but also a limited set of cosmological 'zoom-in' simulations. Although simulations have shown significant effects from these physics with weak or absent stellar feedback, the effects are much weaker than those of stellar feedback when the latter is modelled explicitly. The additional physics have no systematic effect on galactic star formation rates (SFRs). In contrast, removing stellar feedback leads to SFRs being overpredicted by factors of ~10-100. Without feedback, neither galactic winds nor volume-filling hot-phase gas exist, and discs tend to runaway collapse to ultra-thin scaleheights with unphysically dense clumps congregating at the galactic centre. With stellar feedback, a multi-phase, turbulent medium with galactic fountains and winds is established. At currently achievable resolutions and for the investigated halo mass range 1010-1013M, the additional physics investigated here (magnetohydrodynamic, conduction, viscosity, metal diffusion) have only weak (~10 per cent-level) effects on regulating SFR and altering the balance of phases, outflows or the energy in ISM turbulence, consistent with simple equipartition arguments. We conclude that galactic star formation and the ISM are primarily governed by a combination of turbulence, gravitational instabilities and feedback. We add the caveat that active galactic nucleus feedback is not included in the present work.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)144-166
Number of pages23
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2017


  • Conduction
  • ISM: jets and outflows
  • ISM: structure
  • MHD
  • Methods: numerical
  • Turbulence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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