How closely do baryons follow dark matter on large scales?
We investigate the large-scale clustering and gravitational interaction of baryons and dark matter (DM) over cosmic time using a set of collisionless N-body simulations. Both components, baryons and DM, are evolved from distinct primordial density and velocity power spectra as predicted by early-universe physics. We first demonstrate that such two-component simulations require an unconventional match between force and mass resolution (i.e. force softening on at least the mean particle separation scale). Otherwise, the growth on any scale is not correctly recovered because of a spurious coupling between the two species at the smallest scales. With these simulations, we then demonstrate how the primordial differences in the clustering of baryons and DM are progressively diminished over time. In particular, we explicitly show how the BAO signature is damped in the spatial distribution of baryons and imprinted in that of DM. This is a rapid process, yet it is still not fully completed at low redshifts. On large scales, the overall shape of the correlation function of baryons and DM differs by 2% at z = 9 and by 0.2% at z = 0. The differences in the amplitude of the BAO peak are approximately a factor of 5 larger: 10% at z = 9 and 1% at z = 0. These discrepancies are, however, smaller than effects expected to be introduced by galaxy formation physics in both the shape of the power spectrum and in the BAO peak, and are thus unlikely to be detected given the precision of the next generation of galaxy surveys. Hence, our results validate the standard practice of modelling the observed galaxy distribution using predictions for the total mass clustering in the Universe.