Ever since the thick disk was proposed to explain the vertical distribution of the Milky Way disk stars, its origin has been a recurrent question. We aim to answer this question by inspecting 19 disk galaxies with stellar mass greater than 1010 Mʘ in recent cosmological high-resolution zoom-in simulations: Galactica and NewHorizon. The thin and thick disks are reproduced by the simulations with scale heights and luminosity ratios that are in reasonable agreement with observations. When we spatially classify the disk stars into thin and thick disks by their heights from the galactic plane, the “thick” disk stars are older, less metal-rich, kinematically hotter, and higher in accreted star fraction than the “thin” disk counterparts. However, both disks are dominated by stellar particles formed in situ. We find that approximately half of the in-situ stars in the thick disks are formed even before the galaxies develop their disks, and the other half are formed in spatially and kinematically thinner disks and then thickened with time by heating. We thus conclude from our simulations that the thin and thick disk components are not entirely distinct in terms of formation processes, but rather markers of the evolution of galactic disks. Moreover, as the combined result of the thickening of the existing disk stars and the continued formation of young thin-disk stars, the vertical distribution of stars does not change much after the disks settle, pointing to the modulation of both orbital diffusion and star formation by the same confounding factor: the proximity of galaxies to marginal stability.
|Publication status||Published - 2020 Sep 25|
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