The imprint of bursty star formation on alpha-element abundance patterns in Milky Way-like galaxies

Hanna Parul*, Jeremy Bailin, Andrew Wetzel, Alexander B. Gurvich, Claude André Faucher-Giguère, Zachary Hafen, Jonathan Stern, Owain Snaith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Milky Way-mass galaxies in the FIRE-2 simulations demonstrate two main modes of star formation. At high redshifts star formation occurs in a series of short and intense bursts, while at low redshifts star formation proceeds at a steady rate with a transition from one mode to another at times ranging from 3 to 7 Gyr ago for different galaxies. We analyse how the mode of star formation affects iron and alpha-element abundance. We find that the early bursty regime imprints a measurable pattern in stellar elemental abundances in the form of a 'sideways chevron' shape on the [Fe/H] - [O/Fe] plane and the scatter in [O/Fe] at a given stellar age is higher than when a galaxy is in the steady regime. That suggests that the evolution of [O/Fe] scatter with age provides an estimate of the end of the bursty phase. We investigate the feasibility of observing of this effect by adding mock observational errors to a simulated stellar survey and find that the transition between the bursty and steady phase should be detectable in the Milky Way, although larger observational uncertainties make the transition shallower. We apply our method to observations of the Milky Way from the Second APOKASC Catalogue and estimate that the transition to steady star formation in the Milky Way happened 7-8 Gyrs ago, earlier than transition times measured in the simulations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1672-1686
Number of pages15
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2023


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


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