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  1. Abstract Active galactic nuclei (AGNs) are promising environments for the assembly of merging binary black hole (BBH) systems. Interest in AGNs as nurseries for merging BBHs is rising, following the detection of gravitational waves from a BBH system from the purported pair-instability mass gap, most notably GW190521. AGNs have also been invoked to explain the formation of the high-mass-ratio system GW190814. We draw on simulations of BBH systems in AGNs to propose a phenomenological model for the distribution of black hole spins of merging binaries in AGN disks. The model incorporates distinct features that make the AGN channel potentially distinguishablemore »from other channels, such as assembly in the field and in globular clusters. The model parameters can be mapped heuristically to the age and density of the AGN disks. We estimate the extent to which different populations of mergers in AGNs can be distinguished. If the majority of merging black holes are assembled in AGNs, future gravitational-wave observations may provide insights into the dynamics of AGN disks.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 26, 2023
  2. Abstract Stars are likely embedded in the gas disks of active galactic nuclei (AGN). Theoretical models predict that in the inner regions of the disk, these stars accrete rapidly, with fresh gas replenishing hydrogen in their cores faster than it is burned into helium, effectively stalling their evolution at hydrogen burning. We produce order-of-magnitude estimates of the number of such stars in a fiducial AGN disk. We find numbers of order 10 2–4 , confined to the inner r cap ∼ 3000 r s ∼ 0.03 pc. These stars can profoundly alter the chemistry of AGN disks, enriching them inmore »helium and depleting them in hydrogen, both by order-unity amounts. We further consider mergers between these stars and other disk objects, suggesting that star–star mergers result in rapid mass loss from the remnant to restore an equilibrium mass, while star–compact object mergers may result in exotic outcomes and even host binary black hole mergers within themselves. Finally, we examine how these stars react as the disk dissipates toward the end of its life, and find that they may return mass to the disk fast enough to extend its lifetime by a factor of several and/or may drive powerful outflows from the disk. Post-AGN, these stars rapidly lose mass and form a population of stellar mass black holes around 10 M ⊙ . Due to the complex and uncertain interactions between embedded stars and the disk, their plausible ubiquity, and their order-unity impact on disk structure and evolution, they must be included in realistic disk models.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2023
  3. Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2022
  4. ABSTRACT Advanced LIGO and Advanced Virgo are detecting a large number of binary stellar origin black hole (BH) mergers. A promising channel for accelerated BH merger lies in active galactic nucleus (AGN) discs of gas around supermasssive BHs. Here, we investigate the relative number of compact object (CO) mergers in AGN disc models, including BH, neutron stars (NS), and white dwarfs, via Monte Carlo simulations. We find the number of all merger types in the bulk disc grows ∝ t1/3 which is driven by the Hill sphere of the more massive merger component. Median mass ratios of NS–BH mergers in AGN discs aremore »$\tilde{q}=0.07\pm 0.06(0.14\pm 0.07)$ for mass functions (MF) M−1(− 2). If a fraction fAGN of the observed rate of BH–BH mergers (RBH–BH) come from AGN, the rate of NS–BH (NS–NS) mergers in the AGN channel is ${R}_{\mathrm{ BH}\!-\!\mathrm{ NS}} \sim f_{\mathrm{ AGN}}[10,300]\, \rm {Gpc}^{-3}\, \rm {yr}^{-1},({\mathit{ R}}_{NS\!-\!NS} \le \mathit{ f}_{AGN}400\, \rm {Gpc}^{-3}\, \rm {yr}^{-1}$). Given the ratio of NS–NS/BH–BH LIGO search volumes, from preliminary O3 results the AGN channel is not the dominant contribution to observed NS–NS mergers. The number of lower mass gap events expected is a strong function of the nuclear MF and mass segregation efficiency. CO merger ratios derived from LIGO can restrict models of MF, mass segregation, and populations embedded in AGN discs. The expected number of electromagnetic (EM) counterparts to NS–BH mergers in AGN discs at z < 1 is $\sim [30,900]\, {\rm {yr}}^{-1}(f_{\mathrm{ AGN}}/0.1)$. EM searches for flaring events in large AGN surveys will complement LIGO constraints on AGN models and the embedded populations that must live in them.« less
  5. 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 tomore »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.« less
  6. ABSTRACT We report on three redshift z > 2 quasars with dramatic changes in their C iv emission lines, the first sample of changing-look quasars (CLQs) at high redshift. This is also the first time the changing-look behaviour has been seen in a high-ionization emission line. SDSS J1205+3422, J1638+2827, and J2228 + 2201 show interesting behaviour in their observed optical light curves, and subsequent spectroscopy shows significant changes in the C iv broad emission line, with both line collapse and emergence being displayed on rest-frame time-scales of ∼240–1640 d. These are rapid changes, especially when considering virial black hole mass estimates of MBH > 109M⊙more »for all three quasars. Continuum and emission line measurements from the three quasars show changes in the continuum-equivalent width plane with the CLQs seen to be on the edge of the full population distribution, and showing indications of an intrinsic Baldwin effect. We put these observations in context with recent state-change models, and note that even in their observed low-state, the C iv CLQs are generally above ∼5 per cent in Eddington luminosity.« less
  7. ABSTRACT Accretion discs around supermassive black holes are promising sites for stellar mass black hole mergers detectable with LIGO. Here we present the results of Monte Carlo simulations of black hole mergers within 1-d AGN disc models. For the spin distribution in the disc bulk, key findings are: (1) The distribution of χeff is naturally centred around $\tilde{\chi }_{\rm eff} \approx 0.0$, (2) the width of the χeff distribution is narrow for low natal spins. For the mass distribution in the disc bulk, key findings are: (3) mass ratios $\tilde{q} \sim 0.5\!-\!0.7$, (4) the maximum merger mass in the bulkmore »is $\sim 100\!-\!200\, \mathrm{M}_{\odot }$, (5) $\sim 1{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$ of bulk mergers involve BH $\gt 50\, \mathrm{M}_{\odot }$ with (6) $\simeq 80{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$ of bulk mergers are pairs of first generation BH. Additionally, mergers at a migration trap grow an IMBH with typical merger mass ratios $\tilde{q}\sim 0.1$. Ongoing LIGO non-detections of black holes $\gt 10^{2}\, \mathrm{M}_{\odot }$ puts strong limits on the presence of migration traps in AGN discs (and therefore AGN disc density and structure) as well as median AGN disc lifetime. The highest merger rate occurs for this channel if AGN discs are relatively short-lived (≤1 Myr) so multiple AGN episodes can happen per Galactic nucleus in a Hubble time.« less
  8. Abstract Since 2015 the gravitational-wave observations of LIGO and Virgo have transformed our understanding of compact-object binaries. In the years to come, ground-based gravitational-wave observatories such as LIGO, Virgo, and their successors will increase in sensitivity, discovering thousands of stellar-mass binaries. In the 2030s, the space-based LISA will provide gravitational-wave observations of massive black holes binaries. Between the $\sim 10$ ∼ 10 –10 3 Hz band of ground-based observatories and the $\sim 10^{-4}$ ∼ 1 0 − 4 –10 − 1 Hz band of LISA lies the uncharted decihertz gravitational-wave band. We propose a Decihertz Observatory to study this frequency range,more »and to complement observations made by other detectors. Decihertz observatories are well suited to observation of intermediate-mass ( $\sim 10^{2}$ ∼ 1 0 2 –10 4 M ⊙ ) black holes; they will be able to detect stellar-mass binaries days to years before they merge, providing early warning of nearby binary neutron star mergers and measurements of the eccentricity of binary black holes, and they will enable new tests of general relativity and the Standard Model of particle physics. Here we summarise how a Decihertz Observatory could provide unique insights into how black holes form and evolve across cosmic time, improve prospects for both multimessenger astronomy and multiband gravitational-wave astronomy, and enable new probes of gravity, particle physics and cosmology.« less