Stellar feedback and bulge formation in clumpy discs




We use numerical simulations of isolated galaxies to study the effects of stellar feedback on the formation and evolution of giant star-forming gas ‘clumps’ in high-redshift, gas-rich galaxies. Such galactic discs are unstable to the formation of bound gas-rich clumps whose properties initially depend only on global disc properties, not the microphysics of feedback. In simulations without stellar feedback, clumps turn an order-unity fraction of their mass into stars and sink to the centre, forming a large bulge and kicking most of the stars out into a much more extended stellar envelope. By contrast, strong radiative stellar feedback disrupts even the most massive clumps after they turn ∼10–20 per cent of their mass into stars, in a time-scale of ∼10–100 Myr, ejecting some material into a superwind and recycling the rest of the gas into the diffuse interstellar medium (ISM). This suppresses the bulge formation rate by direct ‘clump coalescence’ by a factor of several. However, the galactic discs do undergo significant internal evolution in the absence of mergers: clumps form and disrupt continuously and torque gas to the galactic centre. The resulting evolution is qualitatively similar to bar/spiral evolution in simulations with a more homogeneous ISM.