Strongly baryon-dominated disk galaxies at the peak of galaxy formation ten billion years ago

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Abstract

In the cold dark matter cosmology, the baryonic components of galaxies—stars and gas—are thought to be mixed with and embedded in non-baryonic and non-relativistic dark matter, which dominates the total mass of the galaxy and its dark-matter halo1. In the local (low-redshift) Universe, the mass of dark matter within a galactic disk increases with disk radius, becoming appreciable and then dominant in the outer, baryonic regions of the disks of star-forming galaxies. This results in rotation velocities of the visible matter within the disk that are constant or increasing with disk radius—a hallmark of the dark-matter model2. Comparisons between the dynamical mass, inferred from these velocities in rotational equilibrium, and the sum of the stellar and cold-gas mass at the peak epoch of galaxy formation ten billion years ago, inferred from ancillary data, suggest high baryon fractions in the inner, star-forming regions of the disks3,4,5,6. Although this implied baryon fraction may be larger than in the local Universe, the systematic uncertainties (owing to the chosen stellar initial-mass function and the calibration of gas masses) render such comparisons inconclusive in terms of the mass of dark matter7. Here we report rotation curves (showing rotation velocity as a function of disk radius) for the outer disks of six massive star-forming galaxies, and find that the rotation velocities are not constant, but decrease with radius. We propose that this trend arises because of a combination of two main factors: first, a large fraction of the massive high-redshift galaxy population was strongly baryon-dominated, with dark matter playing a smaller part than in the local Universe; and second, the large velocity dispersion in high-redshift disks introduces a substantial pressure term that leads to a decrease in rotation velocity with increasing radius. The effect of both factors appears to increase with redshift. Qualitatively, the observations suggest that baryons in the early (high-redshift) Universe efficiently condensed at the centres of dark-matter haloes when gas fractions were high and dark matter was less concentrated.

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