The stellar halo in Local Group Hestia simulations. I. The in situ component and the effect of mergers

Khoperskov, Sergey; Minchev, Ivan; Libeskind, Noam; Haywood, Misha; Di Matteo, Paola; Belokurov, Vasily; Steinmetz, Matthias; Gomez, Facundo A.; Grand, Robert J. J.; Hoffman, Yehuda; Knebe, Alexander; Sorce, Jenny G.; Spaare, Martin; Tempel, Elmo; Vogelsberger, Mark
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Astronomy and Astrophysics

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Theory suggests that mergers play an important role in shaping galactic discs and stellar haloes, which was observationally confirmed in the Milky Way (MW) thanks to Gaia data. In this work, aiming to probe the contribution of mergers to the in situ stellar halo formation, we analyse six M 31 and MW analogues from the HESTIA suite of cosmological hydrodynamical zoom-in simulations of the Local Group. We found that all the HESTIA galaxies experience between one to four mergers with stellar mass ratios between 0.2 and 1 relative to the host at the time of the merger. These significant mergers, with a single exception, happened 7 − 11 Gyr ago. The overall impact of the most massive mergers in HESTIA is clearly seen as a sharp increase in the orbital eccentricity (and a corresponding decrease in the rotational velocity Vϕ) of pre-existing disc stars of the main progenitor, thus nicely reproducing the Splash-, Plume-like feature that was discovered in the MW. We do find a correlation between mergers and close pericentric passages of massive satellites and bursts of the star formation in the in situ component. Massive mergers sharply increase the disc velocity dispersion of the in situ stars; however, the latest significant merger often heats up the disc up to the numbers when the contribution of the previous ones is less prominent in the age-velocity dispersion relation. In HESTIA galaxies, the in situ halo is an important component of the inner stellar halo where its fraction is about 30 − 40%, while in the outer parts it typically does not exceed ≈5% beyond 15 kpc from the galactic centre. The simulations suggest that this component of the stellar haloes continues to grow well after mergers conclude; however, the most significant contribution comes from stars that formed recently before the merger. The orbital analysis of the HESTIA galaxies suggests that wedges in Rmax − Zmax (apocentre - maximum height from the mid-plane) space are mainly populated by the stars born in between significant mergers.