The nature of the ISM in galaxies during the star-formation activity peak of the Universe

We combine a semi-analytic model of galaxy formation, which tracks atomic and molecular phases of cold gas, with a three-dimensional radiative-transfer and line tracing code to study the sub-mm emission from several atomic and molecular species (CO, HCN, C, C+, [OI]) in galaxies. We aim to understand if the physics that drives the formation of stars at the epoch of peak star formation in the Universe is similar to or different from that in local galaxies. We find that normal star-forming galaxies at high redshift have much higher CO-excitation peaks than their local counterparts, higher HCN/CO ratios and that CO cooling predominantly takes place through molecules with higher excitation levels. We find an increase in the ratio between [OI] and [CII] in typical star-forming galaxies at z = 1.2 and z = 2.0 with respect to counterparts at z = 0. All our model results suggest that typical star-forming galaxies at high redshift consist of much denser and warmer star-forming clouds than their local counterparts and form their stars under significantly different ISM conditions. Galaxies belonging to the tail of the SF activity peak of the Universe (z = 1.2) are already less dense and cooler than counterparts during the actual peak of SF activity (z = 2.0). We use our results to discuss how future ALMA surveys can best confront our predictions and constrain models of galaxy formation.

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Date added: Tue, 8 Oct 13