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Satellite dwarf galaxies in a hierarchical universe: The prevalence of dwarf-dwarf major mergers

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Mergers are a common phenomenon in hierarchical structure formation, especially for massive galaxies and clusters, but their importance for dwarf galaxies in the Local Group remains poorly understood. We investigate the frequency of major mergers between dwarf galaxies in the Local Group using the ELVIS suite of cosmological zoom-in dissipationless simulations of Milky Way- and M31-like host halos. We find that 10% of satellite dwarf galaxies with M star > 106 M that are within the host virial radius experienced a major merger of stellar mass ratio closer than 0.1 since z = 1, with a lower fraction for lower mass dwarf galaxies. Recent merger remnants are biased toward larger radial distance and more recent virial infall times, because most recent mergers occurred shortly before crossing within the virial radius of the host halo. Satellite-satellite mergers also occur within the host halo after virial infall, catalyzed by the large fraction of dwarf galaxies that fell in as part of a group. The merger fraction doubles for dwarf galaxies outside of the host virial radius, so the most distant dwarf galaxies in the Local Group are the most likely to have experienced a recent major merger. We discuss the implications of these results on observable dwarf merger remnants, their star formation histories, the gas content of mergers, and massive black holes in dwarf galaxies.

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