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Theses Doctoral

The Angular Momentum of the Circumgalactic Medium and its Connection to Galaxies in the Illustris and TNG Simulations

DeFelippis, Daniel

A galaxy's angular momentum is known to be correlated with its morphology: at a given mass, spiral galaxies have higher angular momenta than elliptical galaxies. A galaxy's angular momentum is also largely set by its formation history: in particular, how much gas and the kinematic state of the gas that both accretes onto it and is expelled in galactic outflows from AGN and supernovae. All gas inflowing to and outflowing from the galaxy interacts with gas in the region surrounding the galaxy called the circumgalactic medium (CGM), which means at a fundamental level, the CGM controls the angular momentum of the galaxy. Therefore, to really understand the origins of galactic angular momentum, it is necessary to understand the angular momentum of the CGM itself. In this dissertation, I present a series of projects aimed at studying angular momentum in the CGM using the Illustris and IllustrisTNG cosmological hydrodynamical simulations suites. In an appendix, I also present a project on searching a survey of neutral hydrogen for previously undetected ultra-faint dwarf galaxies in and around the Milky Way's CGM.

First, to understand how present-day galaxies acquire their observed angular momentum, I analyze the evolution of the angular momentum of Lagrangian gas mass elements as they accrete onto dark matter halos, condense into Milky Way-scale galaxies, and join the z=0 stellar phase of those galaxies. I find that physical feedback from the galaxy is essential in order to produce reasonable values of galactic angular momentum, and that most of the effects of this feedback occur in the CGM, necessitating studying the angular momentum of the CGM itself.

Following on from this result, I then characterize the angular momentum distribution and structure within the CGM of simulated galaxies over a much larger range of halo masses and redshifts, with the goal of determining if there are common angular momentum properties in CGM populations. I indeed find that the angular momentum of the CGM is larger and better aligned around disk galaxies that themselves have high angular momentum. I also identify rotating structures of cold gas that are generally present around galactic disks. This clear connection of the CGM to the galaxy motivated a detailed comparison to observations of cold CGM gas.

I perform this comparison in the following chapter where I use the highest-resolution simulation from the IllustrisTNG suite of cosmological magneto-hydrodynamical simulations to generate synthetic observations of cold CGM gas around star-forming galaxies in order to study kinematics and compare them to line-of-sight observations of cold gas near comparable galaxies. With this direct comparison to observations of the CGM, I show that IllustrisTNG produces rotating CGM gas consistent with observations to a high degree.

In the penultimate chapter I present unpublished work where I begin to examine angular momentum evolution in the CGM on much finer timescales than can be resolved with the cosmological simulations I have used thus far. Preliminary results suggest that gas can experience large changes in angular momentum very quickly, and that these changes may be connected to corresponding changes in the temperature of the gas.

Finally, I conclude by summarizing my main results and briefly discussing what questions still remain unanswered and my plans and strategies for pursuing these questions in my future work.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Bryan, Greg L.
Genel, Shy
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 25, 2021