Stacked Star Formation Rate Profiles of Bursty Galaxies Exhibit "coherent" Star Formation

Matthew E. Orr, Christopher C. Hayward, Erica J. Nelson, Philip F. Hopkins, Claude André Faucher-Giguère, Dušan Kereš, T. K. Chan, Denise M. Schmitz, Tim B. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


In a recent work based on 3200 stacked Hα maps of galaxies at , Nelson et al. find evidence for "coherent star formation": the stacked star formation rate (SFR) profiles of galaxies above (below) the "star formation main sequence" (MS) are above (below) that of galaxies on the MS at all radii. One might interpret this result as inconsistent with highly bursty star formation and evidence that galaxies evolve smoothly along the MS rather than crossing it many times. We analyze six simulated galaxies at from the Feedback in Realistic Environments (FIRE) project in a manner analogous to the observations to test whether the above interpretations are correct. The trends in stacked SFR profiles are qualitatively consistent with those observed. However, SFR profiles of individual galaxies are much more complex than the stacked profiles: the former can be flat or even peak at large radii because of the highly clustered nature of star formation in the simulations. Moreover, the SFR profiles of individual galaxies above (below) the MS are not systematically above (below) those of MS galaxies at all radii. We conclude that the time-averaged coherent star formation evident stacks of observed galaxies is consistent with highly bursty, clumpy star formation of individual galaxies and is not evidence that galaxies evolve smoothly along the MS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL2
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017


  • galaxies: evolution
  • galaxies: formation
  • galaxies: high-redshift
  • galaxies: star formation
  • galaxies: structure
  • methods: observational

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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