National Aeronautics and Space Administration


Date of this Version



Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 424, 190–209 (2012); doi:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2012.21183.x


A fundamental gap in the current understanding of galaxies concerns the thermodynamical evolution of ordinary, baryonic matter. On the one hand, radiative emission drastically decreases the thermal energy content of the interstellar plasma (ISM), inducing a slow cooling flow towards the centre. On the other hand, the active galactic nucleus (AGN) struggles to prevent the runaway cooling catastrophe, injecting huge amount of energy into the ISM. The present study intends to investigate thoroughly the role of mechanical AGN feedback in (isolated or massive) elliptical galaxies, extending and completing the mass range of tested cosmic environments. Our previously successful feedback models in galaxy clusters and groups demonstrated that AGN outflows, self-regulated by cold gas accretion, are able to quench the cooling flow properly without destroying the cool core. Via three-dimensional hydrodynamic simulations (FLASH 3.3), also including stellar evolution, we show that massive mechanical AGN outflows can indeed solve the cooling-flow problem for the entire life of the galaxy, at the same time reproducing typical observational features and constraints such as buoyant under dense bubbles, elliptical shock cocoons, sonic ripples, dredge-up of metals, subsonic turbulence and extended filamentary or nuclear cold gas. In order to avoid overheating and totally emptying the isolated galaxy, the frequent mechanical AGN feedback should be less powerful and efficient (ϵ ∼ 10−4) compared with the heating required for more massive and bound ellipticals surrounded by the intragroup medium (ϵ ∼ 10−3).