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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The convergence of particle-in-cell schemes for cosmological dark matter simulations

  • Author(s): Myers, A
  • Colella, P
  • Van Straalen, B
  • et al.

© 2016. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved. Particle methods are a ubiquitous tool for solving the Vlasov-Poisson equation in comoving coordinates, which is used to model the gravitational evolution of dark matter (DM) in an expanding universe. However, these methods are known to produce poor results on idealized test problems, particularly at late times, after the particle trajectories have crossed. To investigate this, we have performed a series of one- and two-dimensional "Zel'dovich pancake" calculations using the popular particle-in-cell (PIC) method. We find that PIC can indeed converge on these problems provided that the following modifications are made. The first modification is to regularize the singular initial distribution function by introducing a small but finite artificial velocity dispersion. This process is analogous to artificial viscosity in compressible gas dynamics, and, as with artificial viscosity, the amount of regularization can be tailored so that its effect outside of a well-defined region - in this case, the high-density caustics - is small. The second modification is the introduction of a particle remapping procedure that periodically reexpresses the DM distribution function using a new set of particles. We describe a remapping algorithm that is third-order accurate and adaptive in phase space. This procedure prevents the accumulation of numerical errors in integrating the particle trajectories from growing large enough to significantly degrade the solution. Once both of these changes are made, PIC converges at second order on the Zel'dovich pancake problem, even at late times, after many caustics have formed. Furthermore, the resulting scheme does not suffer from the unphysical, small-scale "clumping" phenomenon known to occur on the pancake problem when the perturbation wavevector is not aligned with one of the Cartesian coordinate axes.

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