Systematic problems with using dark matter simulations to model stellar halos

Bailin, Jeremy, Bell, Eric F., Valluri, Monica, Stinson, Greg S., Debattista, Victor P orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-7902-0116, Couchman, H. M. P. and Wadsley, James (2014) Systematic problems with using dark matter simulations to model stellar halos. The Astrophysical Journal, 783 (2). p. 95. ISSN 0004-637X

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The limits of available computing power have forced models for the structure of stellar halos to adopt one or both of the following simplifying assumptions: (1) stellar mass can be "painted" onto dark matter (DM) particles in progenitor satellites; (2) pure DM simulations that do not form a luminous galaxy can be used. We estimate the magnitude of the systematic errors introduced by these assumptions using a controlled set of stellar halo models where we independently vary whether we look at star particles or painted DM particles, and whether we use a simulation in which a baryonic disk galaxy forms or a matching pure DM simulation that does not form a baryonic disk. We find that the "painting" simplification reduces the halo concentration and internal structure, predominantly because painted DM particles have different kinematics from star particles even when both are buried deep in the potential well of the satellite. The simplification of using pure DM simulations reduces the concentration further, but increases the internal structure, and results in a more prolate stellar halo. These differences can be a factor of 1.5-7 in concentration (as measured by the half-mass radius) and 2-7 in internal density structure. Given this level of systematic uncertainty, one should be wary of overinterpreting differences between observations and the current generation of stellar halo models based on DM-only simulations when such differences are less than an order of magnitude.

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