Two-body relaxation in cold dark matter simulations

Diemand, Juerg ; Moore, Ben ; Stadel, Joachim ; Kazantzidis, Stelios

In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 2004, vol. 348, no. 3, p. 977-986

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    N-body simulations of the hierarchical formation of cosmic structures suffer from the problem that the first objects to form always contain just a few particles. Although relaxation is not an issue for virialized objects containing millions of particles, collisional processes will always dominate within the first structures that collapse. First we quantify how the relaxation varies with resolution, softening and radius within isolated equilibrium and non-equilibrium cuspy haloes. We then attempt to determine how this numerical effect propagates through a merging hierarchy by measuring the local relaxation rates of each particle throughout the hierarchical formation of a dark matter halo. The central few per cent of the final structures - a region that one might naively think is well resolved at the final time since the haloes contain ≈106 particles - suffer from high degrees of relaxation. It is not clear how to interpret the effects of the accumulated relaxation rate, but we argue that it describes a region within which one should be careful about trusting the numerical results. Substructure haloes are most affected by relaxation since they contain few particles at a constant energy for the entire simulation. We show that relaxation will flatten a cusp in just a few mean relaxation times of a halo. We explore the effect of resolution on the degree of relaxation, and we find that increasing N slowly reduces the degree of relaxation ∝N−0.25 rather than proportional to N as expected from the collisionless Boltzmann equation. Simulated with the same relative mass resolution (i.e. equal numbers of particles), cluster mass objects suffer significantly more relaxation than galaxy mass objects since they form relatively late and therefore more of the particles spend more time in small-N haloes