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Keywords:

  • methods: N-body simulations;
  • galaxies: formation;
  • galaxies: haloes;
  • cosmology: theory;
  • dark matter

ABSTRACT

We model gas cooling in high-resolution N-body simulations in order to investigate the formation of the first generation of stars. We follow a region of a Lambda cold dark matter (ΛCDM) universe especially selected to contain a rich cluster by the present day. The properties of the dark haloes that form in these subsolar mass-resolution simulations are presented in a companion paper by Gao et al. The first gas clouds able to cool by molecular hydrogen (H2)-line emission collapse at extremely high redshift, z≈ 47, when the mass of the dark halo is 2.4 × 105 h−1 M. By z≈ 30, a substantial population of haloes are capable of undergoing molecular hydrogen cooling although their ability to form stars is dependent on the efficiency of feedback processes such as dissociating Lyman–Werner radiation. The mass of the main halo grows extremely rapidly and, by z≈ 36, its virial temperature has reached 104 K, at which point gas cooling becomes dominated by more effective atomic processes. By z≈ 30, a small ‘group’ of such potential galaxies will have formed unless prevented from doing so by feedback processes. By this redshift, massive (≳100 M) Population III stars are able to ionize gas well beyond their own host halo and neighbouring H ii regions can percolate to form an ionized superbubble. Such patches would be too widely separated to contribute significantly to reionization at this time. The large number density of early cooling haloes in the pre-reionized universe raises the exciting prospect that this ultra-early generation of stars may be observable as gamma-ray bursts or supernovae.