Born this way: Thin disc, thick disc, and isotropic spheroid formation in FIRE-2 Milky Way-mass galaxy simulations

Sijie Yu, James S. Bullock*, Alexander B. Gurvich, Zachary Hafen, Jonathan Stern, Michael Boylan-Kolchin, Claude Andre Faucher-Giguère, Andrew Wetzel, Philip F. Hopkins, Jorge Moreno

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We investigate the formation of Milky Way-mass galaxies using FIRE-2 ΛCDM cosmological zoom-in simulations by studying the orbital evolution of stars formed in the main progenitor of the galaxy, from birth to the present day. We classify in situ stars as isotropic spheroid, thick-disc, and thin-disc according to their orbital circularities and show that these components are assembled in a time-ordered sequence from early to late times, respectively. All simulated galaxies experience an early phase of bursty star formation that transitions to a late-Time steady phase. This transition coincides with the time that the inner CGM virializes. During the early bursty phase, galaxies have irregular morphologies and new stars are born on radial orbits; these stars evolve into an isotropic spheroidal population today. The bulk of thick-disc stars form at intermediate times, during a clumpy-disc 'spin-up' phase, slightly later than the peak of spheroid formation. At late times, once the CGM virializes and star formation 'cools down,' stars are born on circular orbits within a narrow plane. Those stars mostly inhabit thin discs today. Broadly speaking, stars with disc-like or spheroid-like orbits today were born that way. Mergers on to discs and secular processes do affect kinematics in our simulations, but play only secondary roles in populating thick-disc and in situ spheroid populations at z = 0. The age distributions of spheroid, thick disc, and thin disc populations scale self-similarly with the steady-phase transition time, which suggests that morphological age dating can be linked to the CGM virialization time in galaxies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6220-6238
Number of pages19
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2023


  • galaxies: disc
  • galaxies: evolution
  • galaxies: formation
  • galaxies: star formation
  • methods: numerical


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