skip to main content

Title: Starfall: a heavy rain of stars in ‘turning on’ AGN

As active galactic nuclei (AGN) ‘turn on’, some stars end up embedded in accretion discs around supermassive black holes (SMBHs) on retrograde orbits. Such stars experience strong headwinds, aerodynamic drag, ablation, and orbital evolution on short time-scales. The loss of orbital angular momentum in the first ∼0.1 Myr of an AGN leads to a heavy rain of stars (‘starfall’) into the inner disc and on to the SMBH. A large AGN loss cone (θAGN, lc) can result from binary scatterings in the inner disc and yield tidal disruption events (TDEs). Signatures of starfall include optical/UV flares that rise in luminosity over time, particularly in the inner disc. If the SMBH mass is $M_{\rm SMBH} \gtrsim 10^{8}\, \mathrm{M}_{\odot }$, flares truncate abruptly and the star is swallowed. If $M_{\rm SMBH}\lt 10^{8}\, \mathrm{M}_{\odot }$, and if the infalling orbit lies within θAGN, lc, the flare is followed by a TDE that can be prograde or retrograde relative to the AGN inner disc. Retrograde AGN TDEs are overluminous and short-lived as in-plane ejecta collide with the inner disc and a lower AGN state follows. Prograde AGN TDEs add angular momentum to inner disc gas and so start off looking like regular TDEs but more » are followed by an AGN high state. Searches for such flare signatures test models of AGN ‘turn on’, SMBH mass, as well as disc properties and the embedded population.

« less
; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
p. 4102-4110
Oxford University Press
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this

    Many astrophysical environments, from star clusters and globular clusters to the discs of active galactic nuclei, are characterized by frequent interactions between stars and the compact objects that they leave behind. Here, using a suite of 3D hydrodynamics simulations, we explore the outcome of close interactions between $1\, \mathrm{M}_{\odot }$ stars and binary black holes (BBHs) in the gravitational wave regime, resulting in a tidal disruption event (TDE) or a pure scattering, focusing on the accretion rates, the back reaction on the BH binary orbital parameters, and the increase in the binary BH effective spin. We find that TDEs can make a significant impact on the binary orbit, which is often different from that of a pure scattering. Binaries experiencing a prograde (retrograde) TDE tend to be widened (hardened) by up to $\simeq 20{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$. Initially circular binaries become more eccentric by $\lesssim 10{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$ by a prograde or retrograde TDE, whereas the eccentricity of initially eccentric binaries increases (decreases) by a retrograde (prograde) TDE by $\lesssim 5{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$. Overall, a single TDE can generally result in changes of the gravitational-wave-driven merger time-scale by order unity. The accretion rates of both black holesmore »are very highly super-Eddington, showing modulations (preferentially for retrograde TDEs) on a time-scale of the orbital period, which can be a characteristic feature of BBH-driven TDEs. Prograde TDEs result in the effective spin parameter χ to vary by ≲0.02, while χ ≳ −0.005 for retrograde TDEs.

    « less

    We develop a rapid algorithm for the evolution of stable, circular, circumbinary discs suitable for parameter estimation and population synthesis modelling. Our model includes disc mass and angular momentum changes, accretion on to the binary stars, and binary orbital eccentricity pumping. We fit our model to the post-asymptotic giant branch (post-AGB) circumbinary disc around IRAS 08544−4431, finding reasonable agreement despite the simplicity of our model. Our best-fitting disc has a mass of about $0.01\, \mathrm{M}_{\odot }$ and angular momentum $2.7\times 10^{52}\, \mathrm{g}\, \mathrm{cm}^{2}\, \mathrm{s}^{-1}\simeq 9 \,\mathrm{M}_{\odot }\, \mathrm{km}\, \mathrm{s}^{-1}\, \mathrm{au}$, corresponding to 0.0079 and 0.16 of the common-envelope mass and angular momentum, respectively. The best-fitting disc viscosity is αdisc = 5 × 10−3 and our tidal torque algorithm can be constrained such that the inner edge of the disc Rin ∼ 2a. The inner binary eccentricity reaches about 0.13 in our best-fitting model of IRAS 08544−4431, short of the observed 0.22. The circumbinary disc evaporates quickly when the post-AGB star reaches a temperature of $\sim \! 6\times 10^4\, \mathrm{K}$, suggesting that planetismals must form in the disc in about $10^{4}\, \mathrm{yr}$ if secondary planet formation is to occur, while accretion from the disc on to the stars at ∼10 times the inner-edge viscous rate canmore »double the disc lifetime.

    « less

    GW190425 was the second gravitational wave (GW) signal compatible with a binary neutron star (BNS) merger detected by the Advanced LIGO and Advanced Virgo detectors. Since no electromagnetic counterpart was identified, whether the associated kilonova was too dim or the localization area too broad is still an open question. We simulate 28 BNS mergers with the chirp mass of GW190425 and mass ratio 1 ≤ q ≤ 1.67, using numerical-relativity simulations with finite-temperature, composition dependent equations of state (EOS) and neutrino radiation. The energy emitted in GWs is $\lesssim 0.083\mathrm{\, M_\odot }c^2$ with peak luminosity of 1.1–$2.4\times ~10^{58}/(1+q)^2\, {\rm {erg \, s^{-1}}}$. Dynamical ejecta and disc mass range between 5 × 10−6–10−3 and 10−5–$0.1 \mathrm{\, M_\odot }$, respectively. Asymmetric mergers, especially with stiff EOSs, unbind more matter and form heavier discs compared to equal mass binaries. The angular momentum of the disc is 8–$10\mathrm{\, M_\odot }~GM_{\rm {disc}}/c$ over three orders of magnitude in Mdisc. While the nucleosynthesis shows no peculiarity, the simulated kilonovae are relatively dim compared with GW170817. For distances compatible with GW190425, AB magnitudes are always dimmer than ∼20 mag for the B, r, and K bands, with brighter kilonovae associated to more asymmetric binaries and stiffer EOSs. We suggest that,more »even assuming a good coverage of GW190425’s sky location, the kilonova could hardly have been detected by present wide-field surveys and no firm constraints on the binary parameters or EOS can be argued from the lack of the detection.

    « less
  4. ABSTRACT Active galactic nuclei (AGN) are powered by the accretion of discs of gas on to supermassive black holes (SMBHs). Stars and stellar remnants orbiting the SMBH in the nuclear star cluster (NSC) will interact with the AGN disc. Orbiters plunging through the disc experience a drag force and, through repeated passage, can have their orbits captured by the disc. A population of embedded objects in AGN discs may be a significant source of binary black hole mergers, supernovae, tidal disruption events, and embedded gamma-ray bursts. For two representative AGN disc models, we use geometric drag and Bondi–Hoyle–Littleton drag to determine the time to capture for stars and stellar remnants. We assume a range of initial inclination angles and semimajor axes for circular Keplerian prograde orbiters. Capture time strongly depends on the density and aspect ratio of the chosen disc model, the relative velocity of the stellar object with respect to the disc, and the AGN lifetime. We expect that for an AGN disc density $\rho \gtrsim 10^{-11}{\rm g\, cm^{-3}}$ and disc lifetime ≥1 Myr, there is a significant population of embedded stellar objects, which can fuel mergers detectable in gravitational waves with LIGO-Virgo and LISA.
  5. Abstract

    A star that approaches a supermassive black hole (SMBH) on a circular extreme mass ratio inspiral (EMRI) can undergo Roche lobe overflow (RLOF), resulting in a phase of long-lived mass transfer onto the SMBH. If the interval separating consecutive EMRIs is less than the mass-transfer timescale driven by gravitational wave emission (typically ∼1–10 Myr), the semimajor axes of the two stars will approach each another on scales of ≲ hundreds to thousands of gravitational radii. Close flybys tidally strip gas from one or both RLOFing stars, briefly enhancing the mass-transfer rate onto the SMBH and giving rise to a flare of transient X-ray emission. If both stars reside in a common orbital plane, these close interactions will repeat on a timescale as short as hours, generating a periodic series of flares with properties (amplitudes, timescales, sources lifetimes) remarkably similar to the “quasi-periodic eruptions” (QPEs) recently observed from galactic nuclei hosting low-mass SMBHs. A cessation of QPE activity is predicted on a timescale of months to years, due to nodal precession of the EMRI orbits out of alignment by the SMBH spin. Channels for generating the requisite coplanar EMRIs include the tidal separation of binaries (Hills mechanism) or Type Imore »inward migration through a gaseous AGN disk. Alternative stellar dynamical scenarios for QPEs, that invoke single stellar EMRIs on an eccentric orbit undergoing a runaway sequence of RLOF events, are strongly disfavored by formation rate constraints.

    « less