The nature of massive transition galaxies in CANDELS, GAMA and cosmological simulations
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2017 The Authors. We explore observational and theoretical constraints on how galaxies might transition between the 'star-forming main sequence' (SFMS) and varying 'degrees of quiescence' out to z = 3. Our analysis is focused on galaxies with stellar mass M* > 1010M, and is enabled by GAMA and CANDELS observations, a semi-analytic model (SAM) of galaxy formation, and a cosmological hydrodynamical 'zoom in' simulation with momentum-driven AGN feedback. In both the observations and the SAM, transition galaxies tend to have intermediate Srsic indices, half-light radii, and surface stellar mass densities compared to star-forming and quiescent galaxies out to z=3.We place an observational upper limit on the average population transition time-scale as a function of redshift, finding that the average high-redshift galaxy is on a 'fast track' for quenching whereas the average low-redshift galaxy is on a 'slow track' for quenching. We qualitatively identify four physical origin scenarios for transition galaxies in the SAM: oscillations on the SFMS, slow quenching, fast quenching, and rejuvenation. Quenching time-scales in both the SAM and the hydrodynamical simulation are not fast enough to reproduce the quiescent population that we observe at z ~ 3. In the SAM, we do not find a clear-cut morphological dependence of quenching time-scales, but we do predict that the mean stellar ages, cold gas fractions, SMBH (supermassive black hole) masses and halo masses of transition galaxies tend to be intermediate relative to those of star-forming and quiescent galaxies at z < 3.