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  1. Abstract

    The recent discovery of two detached black hole–star (BH–star) binaries from Gaia’s third data release has sparked interest in understanding the formation mechanisms of these systems. We investigate the formation of these systems by dynamical processes in young star clusters (SCs) and via isolated binary (IB) evolution, using a combination of directN-body and population synthesis simulations. We find that dynamical formation in SCs is nearly 50 times more efficient per unit of star formation at producing BH–star binaries than IB evolution. We expand this analysis to the full Milky Way (MW) using a FIRE-2 hydrodynamical simulation of an MW-mass galaxy. Even assuming that only 10% of star formation goes into SCs, we find that approximately four out of every five BH–star systems are formed dynamically, and that the MW contains a total of ∼2 × 105BH–star systems. Many of these dynamically formed systems have longer orbital periods, greater eccentricities, and greater black hole masses than their isolated counterparts. For binaries older than 100 Myr, we show that any detectable system withe≳ 0.5 orMBH≳ 10Mcanonlybe formed through dynamical processes. Our MW model predicts between 64 and 215 such detections from the complete DR4 Gaia catalog, with the majority of systems being dynamically formed in massive and metal-rich SCs. Finally, we compare our populations to the recently discovered Gaia BH1 and Gaia BH2, and conclude that the dynamical scenario is the most favorable formation pathway for both systems.

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  2. Abstract

    Gaia's exquisite parallax measurements allowed for the discovery and characterization of the Q branch in the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram, where massive C/O white dwarfs (WDs) pause their dimming due to energy released during crystallization. Interestingly, the fraction of old stars on the Q branch is significantly higher than in the population of WDs that will become Q branch stars or that were Q branch stars in the past. From this, Cheng et al. inferred that ∼6% of WDs passing through the Q branch experience a much longer cooling delay than that of standard crystallizing WDs. Previous attempts to explain this cooling anomaly have invoked mechanisms involving supersolar initial metallicities. In this paper, we describe a novel scenario in which a standard composition WD merges with a subgiant star. The evolution of the resulting merger remnant leads to the creation of a large amount of26Mg, which, along with the existing22Ne, undergoes a distillation process that can release enough energy to explain the Q branch cooling problem without the need for atypical initial abundances. The anomalously high number of old stars on the Q branch may thus be evidence that mass transfer from subgiants to WDs leads to unstable mergers.

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  3. Abstract

    Over the course of several years, stars trace helical trajectories as they traverse across the sky due to the combined effects of proper motion and parallax. It is well known that the gravitational pull of an unseen companion can cause deviations to these tracks. Several studies have pointed out that the astrometric mission Gaia will be able to identify a slew of new exoplanets, stellar binaries, and compact object companions with orbital periods as short as tens of days to as long as Gaia's lifetime. Here, we use mock astrometric observations to demonstrate that Gaia can identify and characterize black hole companions to luminous stars with orbital periods longer than Gaia's lifetime. Such astrometric binaries have orbital periods too long to exhibit complete orbits, and instead are identified through curvature in their characteristic helical paths. By simultaneously measuring the radius of this curvature and the orbital velocity, constraints can be placed on the underlying orbit. We quantify the precision with which Gaia can measure orbital accelerations and apply that to model predictions for the population of black holes orbiting stars in the stellar neighborhood. Although orbital degeneracies imply that many of the accelerations induced by hidden black holes could also be explained by faint low-mass stars, we discuss how the nature of certain putative black hole companions can be confirmed with high confidence using Gaia data alone.

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  4. Abstract

    Mass measurements from low-mass black hole X-ray binaries (LMXBs) and radio pulsars have been used to identify a gap between the most massive neutron stars (NSs) and the least massive black holes (BHs). BH mass measurements in LMXBs are typically only possible for transient systems: outburst periods enable detection via all-sky X-ray monitors, while quiescent periods enable radial velocity measurements of the low-mass donor. We quantitatively study selection biases due to the requirement of transient behavior for BH mass measurements. Using rapid population synthesis simulations (COSMIC), detailed binary stellar-evolution models (MESA), and the disk instability model of transient behavior, we demonstrate that transient LMXB selection effects introduce observational biases, and can suppress mass-gap BHs in the observed sample. However, we find a population of transient LMXBs with mass-gap BHs form through accretion-induced collapse of an NS during the LMXB phase, which is inconsistent with observations. These results are robust against variations of binary evolution prescriptions. The significance of this accretion-induced collapse population depends upon the maximum NS birth massMNS,birthmax. To reflect the observed dearth of low-mass BHs,COSMICandMESAmodels favorMNS,birthmax2M. In the absence of further observational biases against LMXBs with mass-gap BHs, our results indicate the need for additional physics connected to the modeling of LMXB formation and evolution.

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    We report discovery of a bright, nearby ($G = 13.8;\, \, d = 480\, \rm pc$) Sun-like star orbiting a dark object. We identified the system as a black hole candidate via its astrometric orbital solution from the Gaia mission. Radial velocities validated and refined the Gaia solution, and spectroscopy ruled out significant light contributions from another star. Joint modelling of radial velocities and astrometry constrains the companion mass of $M_2 = 9.62\pm 0.18\, \mathrm{M}_{\odot }$. The spectroscopic orbit alone sets a minimum companion mass of $M_2\gt 5\, \mathrm{M}_{\odot }$; if the companion were a $5\, \mathrm{M}_{\odot }$ star, it would be 500 times more luminous than the entire system. These constraints are insensitive to the mass of the luminous star, which appears as a slowly rotating G dwarf ($T_{\rm eff}=5850\, \rm K$, log g = 4.5, $M=0.93\, \mathrm{M}_{\odot }$), with near-solar metallicity ($\rm [Fe/H] = -0.2$) and an unremarkable abundance pattern. We find no plausible astrophysical scenario that can explain the orbit and does not involve a black hole. The orbital period, Porb = 185.6 d, is longer than that of any known stellar-mass black hole binary. The system’s modest eccentricity (e = 0.45), high metallicity, and thin-disc Galactic orbit suggest that it was born in the Milky Way disc with at most a weak natal kick. How the system formed is uncertain. Common envelope evolution can only produce the system’s wide orbit under extreme and likely unphysical assumptions. Formation models involving triples or dynamical assembly in an open cluster may be more promising. This is the nearest known black hole by a factor of 3, and its discovery suggests the existence of a sizable population of dormant black holes in binaries. Future Gaia releases will likely facilitate the discovery of dozens more.

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  6. Abstract

    We describe the public release of the Cluster Monte Carlo (CMC) code, a parallel, star-by-starN-body code for modeling dense star clusters.CMCtreats collisional stellar dynamics using Hénon’s method, where the cumulative effect of many two-body encounters is statistically reproduced as a single effective encounter between nearest-neighbor particles on a relaxation timescale. The star-by-star approach allows for the inclusion of additional physics, including strong gravitational three- and four-body encounters, two-body tidal and gravitational-wave captures, mass loss in arbitrary galactic tidal fields, and stellar evolution for both single and binary stars. The public release ofCMCis pinned directly to theCOSMICpopulation synthesis code, allowing dynamical star cluster simulations and population synthesis studies to be performed using identical assumptions about the stellar physics and initial conditions. As a demonstration, we present two examples of star cluster modeling: first, we perform the largest (N= 108) star-by-starN-body simulation of a Plummer sphere evolving to core collapse, reproducing the expected self-similar density profile over more than 15 orders of magnitude; second, we generate realistic models for typical globular clusters, and we show that their dynamical evolution can produce significant numbers of black hole mergers with masses greater than those produced from isolated binary evolution (such as GW190521, a recently reported merger with component masses in the pulsational pair-instability mass gap).

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