Dynamics of merging: Post-merger mixing and relaxation of an Illustris galaxy

Anthony M. Young, Liliya L.R. Williams, Jens Hjorth

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During the merger of two galaxies, the resulting system undergoes violent relaxation and seeks stable equilibrium. However, the details of this evolution are not fully understood. Using Illustris simulation, we probe two physically related processes, mixing and relaxation. Though the two are driven by the same dynamics - global time-varying potential for the energy, and torques caused by asymmetries for angular momentum - we measure them differently. We define mixing as the redistribution of energy and angular momentum between particles of the two merging galaxies. We assess the degree of mixing as the difference between the shapes of their energy distributions, N(E)s, and their angular momentum distributions, N(L2)s. We find that the difference is decreasing with time, indicating mixing. To measure relaxation, we compare N(E) of the newly merged system to N(E) of a theoretical prediction for relaxed collisionless systems, DARKexp, and witness the system becoming more relaxed, in the sense that N(E) approaches DARKexp N(E). Because the dynamics driving mixing and relaxation are the same, the timescale is similar for both. We measure two sequential timescales: a rapid, 1 Gyr phase after the initial merger, during which the difference in N(E) of the two merging halos decreases by ∼ 80%, followed by a slow phase, when the difference decreases by ∼ 50% over ∼ 8.5 Gyrs. This is a direct measurement of the relaxation timescale. Our work also draws attention to the fact that when a galaxy has reached Jeans equilibrium it may not yet have reached a fully relaxed state given by DARKexp, in that it retains information about its past history. This manifests itself most strongly in stars being centrally concentrated. We argue that it is particularly difficult for stars, and other tightly bound particles, to mix because they have less time to be influenced by the fluctuating potential, even across multiple merger events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number033
JournalJournal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 19 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 IOP Publishing Ltd and Sissa Medialab.


  • dark matter simulations
  • dark matter theory
  • galaxy dynamics
  • galaxy evolution


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