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

Fitts et al., available on arXiv

Abstract: 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 Mh ~ 10^10 Msun (and Mstar ~ 10^5-10^7 Msun) 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~3, 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=0B. 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.