Not so lumpy after all: modeling the depletion of dark matter subhalos by Milky Way-like galaxies

Garrison-Kimmel et al., available on arXiv.

Abstract: Among the most important goals in cosmology is detecting and quantifying small (M_halo ~ 10^6-9 Msun) dark matter (DM) subhalos. Current probes around the Milky Way (MW) are most sensitive to such substructure within ~20 kpc of the halo center, where the galaxy contributes significantly to the potential. We explore the effects of baryons on subhalo populations in Lambda CDM using cosmological zoom-in baryonic simulations of MW-mass halos from the Latte simulation suite, part of the Feedback In Realistic Environments (FIRE) project. Specifically, we compare simulations of the same two halos run using (1) DM-only (DMO), (2) full baryonic physics, and (3) DM with an embedded disk potential grown to match the FIRE simulation. Relative to baryonic simulations, DMO simulations contain ~2x as many subhalos within 100 kpc of halo center; this excess is >~5x within 25 kpc. At z=0, the baryonic simulations are completely devoid of subhalos down to 3×10^6 Msun within 15 kpc of the MW-mass galaxy. Despite the complexities of baryonic physics, the simple addition of an embedded central disk potential to DMO simulations reproduces this subhalo depletion, including trends with radius, remarkably well. Thus, the additional tidal field from the central galaxy is the primary cause of subhalo depletion. Subhalos on radial orbits that pass close to the central galaxy are preferentially destroyed, causing the surviving subhalo population to have tangentially biased orbits compared to DMO predictions. Our method of embedding a disk potential in DMO simulations provides a fast and accurate alternative to full baryonic simulations, thus enabling suites of cosmological simulations that can provide accurate and statistical predictions of substructure populations.