We propose that star formation is delayed relative to the inflow rate in rapidly-accreting galaxies at very high redshift (z > 2) because of the energy conveyed by the accreting gas. Accreting gas streams provide fuel for star formation, but they stir the disk and increase turbulence above the usual levels compatible with gravitational instability, reducing the star formation efficiency in the available gas. After the specific inflow rate has sufficiently decreased – typically at z < 3 – galaxies settle in a self-regulated regime with efficient star formation. An analytic model shows that this interaction between infalling gas and young galaxies can significantly delay star formation and maintain high gas fractions (>40%) down to z = 2, in contrast to other galaxy formation models. Idealized hydrodynamic simulations of infalling gas streams onto primordial galaxies confirm the efficient energetic coupling at z > 2, and suggest that this effect is largely under-resolved in existing cosmological simulations.
Date added: Wed, 9 Oct 13