No Assembly Required: Mergers are Mostly Irrelevant for the Growth of Low-mass Dwarf Galaxies

18 Jan 2018  ·  Fitts Alex, Boylan-Kolchin Michael, Bullock James S., Weisz Daniel R., El-Badry Kareem, Wheeler Coral, Faucher-Giguère Claude-André, Quataert Eliot, Hopkins Philip F., Kereš Dušan, Wetzel Andrew, Hayward Chris ·

We investigate the merger histories of isolated dwarf galaxies based on a suite of 15 high-resolution cosmological zoom-in simulations, all with masses of $M_{\rm halo} \approx 10^{10}\,{\rm M}_{\odot}$ (and M$_\star\sim10^5-10^7\,{\rm M}_{\odot}$) at $z=0$, from the Feedback in Realistic Environments (FIRE) project. The stellar populations of these dwarf galaxies at $z=0$ are formed essentially entirely "in situ": over 90$\%$ of the stellar mass is formed in the main progenitor in all but two cases, and all 15 of the galaxies have >70$\%$ of their stellar mass formed in situ... Virtually all galaxy mergers occur prior to $z\sim3$, meaning that accreted stellar populations are ancient. On average, our simulated dwarfs undergo 5 galaxy mergers in their lifetimes, with typical pre-merger galaxy mass ratios that are less than 1:10. This merger frequency is generally comparable to what has been found in dissipationless simulations when coupled with abundance matching. Two of the simulated dwarfs have a luminous satellite companion at $z=0$. These ultra-faint dwarfs lie at or below current detectability thresholds but are intriguing targets for next-generation facilities. The small contribution of accreted stars make it extremely difficult to discern the effects of mergers in the vast majority of dwarfs either photometrically or using resolved-star color-magnitude diagrams (CMDs). The important implication for near-field cosmology is that star formation histories of comparably massive galaxies derived from resolved CMDs should trace the build-up of stellar mass in one main system across cosmic time as opposed to reflecting the contributions of many individual star formation histories of merged dwarfs. read more

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Astrophysics of Galaxies Cosmology and Nongalactic Astrophysics