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  1. 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
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 1, 2023
  2. Abstract We examine the effect of spatial resolution on initial mass ejection in grid-based hydrodynamic simulations of binary neutron star mergers. The subset of the dynamical ejecta with velocities greater than ∼0.6 c can generate an ultraviolet precursor to the kilonova on approximately hour timescales and contribute to a years long nonthermal afterglow. Previous work has found differing amounts of this fast ejecta, by one to two orders of magnitude, when using particle-based or grid-based hydrodynamic methods. Here, we carry out a numerical experiment that models the merger as an axisymmetric collision in a corotating frame, accounting for Newtonian self-gravity, inertial forces, and gravitational wave losses. The lower computational cost allows us to reach spatial resolutions as high as 4 m, or ∼3 × 10 −4 of the stellar radius. We find that fast ejecta production converges to within 10% for a cell size of 20 m. This suggests that fast ejecta quantities found in existing grid-based merger simulations are unlikely to increase to the level needed to match particle-based results upon further resolution increases. The resulting neutron-powered precursors are in principle detectable out to distances ≲200 Mpc with upcoming facilities.We also find that head-on collisions at the freefall speed,more »relevant for eccentric mergers, yield fast and slow ejecta quantities of order 10 −2 M ⊙ , with a kilonova signature distinct from that of quasi-circular mergers.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 1, 2022
  3. Abstract We explore the observational appearance of the merger of a low-mass star with a white dwarf (WD) binary companion. We are motivated by recent work finding that multiple tensions between the observed properties of cataclysmic variables (CVs) and standard evolution models are resolved if a large fraction of CV binaries merge as a result of unstable mass transfer. Tidal disruption of the secondary forms a geometrically thick disk around the WD, which subsequently accretes at highly super-Eddington rates. Analytic estimates and numerical hydrodynamical simulations reveal that outflows from the accretion flow unbind a large fraction ≳90% of the secondary at velocities ∼500–1000 km s −1 within days of the merger. Hydrogen recombination in the expanding ejecta powers optical transient emission lasting about a month with a luminosity ≳10 38 erg s −1 , similar to slow classical novae and luminous red novae from ordinary stellar mergers. Over longer timescales the mass accreted by the WD undergoes hydrogen shell burning, inflating the remnant into a giant of luminosity ∼300–5000 L ⊙ , effective temperature T eff ≈ 3000 K, and lifetime ∼10 4 –10 5 yr. We predict that ∼10 3 –10 4 Milky Way giants are CV merger products,more »potentially distinguishable by atypical surface abundances. We explore whether any Galactic historical slow classical novae are masquerading CV mergers by identifying four such post-nova systems with potential giant counterparts for which a CV merger origin cannot be ruled out. We address whether the historical transient CK Vul and its gaseous/dusty nebula resulted from a CV merger.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2022
  4. We survey our understanding of classical novae—nonterminal, thermonuclear eruptions on the surfaces of white dwarfs in binary systems. The recent and unexpected discovery of GeV gamma rays from Galactic novae has highlighted the complexity of novae and their value as laboratories for studying shocks and particle acceleration. We review half a century of nova literature through this new lens, and conclude the following: ▪  The basics of the thermonuclear runaway theory of novae are confirmed by observations. The white dwarf sustains surface nuclear burning for some time after runaway, and until recently, it was commonly believed that radiation from this nuclear burning solely determines the nova's bolometric luminosity. ▪  The processes by which novae eject material from the binary system remain poorly understood. Mass loss from novae is complex (sometimes fluctuating in rate, velocity, and morphology) and often prolonged in time over weeks, months, or years. ▪  The complexity of the mass ejection leads to gamma-ray-producing shocks internal to the nova ejecta. When gamma rays are detected (around optical maximum), the shocks are deeply embedded and the surrounding gas is very dense. ▪  Observations of correlated optical and gamma-ray light curves confirm that the shocks are radiative and contribute significantlymore »to the bolometric luminosity of novae. Novae are therefore the closest and most common interaction-powered transients.« less
  5. ABSTRACT During the final stages of a compact object merger, if at least one of the binary components is a magnetized neutron star (NS), then its orbital motion substantially expands the NS’s open magnetic flux – and hence increases its wind luminosity – relative to that of an isolated pulsar. As the binary orbit shrinks due to gravitational radiation, the power and speed of this binary-induced inspiral wind may (depending on pair loading) secularly increase, leading to self-interaction and internal shocks in the outflow beyond the binary orbit. The magnetized forward shock can generate coherent radio emission via the synchrotron maser process, resulting in an observable radio precursor to binary NS merger. We perform 1D relativistic hydrodynamical simulations of shock interaction in the accelerating binary NS wind, assuming that the inspiral wind efficiently converts its Poynting flux into bulk kinetic energy prior to the shock radius. This is combined with the shock maser spectrum from particle-in-cell simulations, to generate synthetic radio light curves. The precursor burst with a fluence of ∼1 Jy·ms at ∼GHz frequencies lasts ∼1–500 ms following the merger for a source at ∼3 Gpc (Bd/1012 G)8/9, where Bd is the dipole field strength of the more strongly magnetized star.more »Given an outflow geometry concentrated along the binary equatorial plane, the signal may be preferentially observable for high-inclination systems, that is, those least likely to produce a detectable gamma-ray burst.« less
  6. Abstract We present deep X-ray and radio observations of the fast blue optical transient (FBOT) AT 2020xnd/ZTF 20acigmel at z = 0.2433 from 13 days to 269 days after explosion. AT 2020xnd belongs to the category of optically luminous FBOTs with similarities to the archetypal event AT 2018cow. AT 2020xnd shows luminous radio emission reaching L ν ≈ 8 × 10 29 erg s −1 Hz −1 at 20 GHz and 75 days post-explosion, accompanied by luminous and rapidly fading soft X-ray emission peaking at L X ≈ 6 × 10 42 erg s −1 . Interpreting the radio emission in the context of synchrotron radiation from the explosion’s shock interaction with the environment, we find that AT 2020xnd launched a high-velocity outflow ( v ∼ 0.1 c –0.2 c ) propagating into a dense circumstellar medium (effective M ̇ ≈ 10 − 3 M ⊙ yr −1 for an assumed wind velocity of v w = 1000 km s −1 ). Similar to AT 2018cow, the detected X-ray emission is in excess compared to the extrapolated synchrotron spectrum and constitutes a different emission component, possibly powered by accretion onto a newly formed black hole or neutron star. These propertiesmore »make AT 2020xnd a high-redshift analog to AT 2018cow, and establish AT 2020xnd as the fourth member of the class of optically luminous FBOTs with luminous multiwavelength counterparts.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 1, 2023
  7. Abstract We present radio observations (1–40 GHz) for 36 classical novae, representing data from over five decades compiled from the literature, telescope archives, and our own programs. Our targets display a striking diversity in their optical parameters (e.g., spanning optical fading timescales, t 2 = 1–263 days), and we find a similar diversity in the radio light curves. Using a brightness temperature analysis, we find that radio emission from novae is a mixture of thermal and synchrotron emission, with nonthermal emission observed at earlier times. We identify high brightness temperature emission ( T B > 5 × 10 4 K) as an indication of synchrotron emission in at least nine (25%) of the novae. We find a class of synchrotron-dominated novae with mildly evolved companions, exemplified by V5589 Sgr and V392 Per, that appear to be a bridge between classical novae with dwarf companions and symbiotic binaries with giant companions. Four of the novae in our sample have two distinct radio maxima (the first dominated by synchrotron and the later by thermal emission), and in four cases the early synchrotron peak is temporally coincident with a dramatic dip in the optical light curve, hinting at a common site for particlemore »acceleration and dust formation. We publish the light curves in a machine-readable table and encourage the use of these data by the broader community in multiwavelength studies and modeling efforts.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2022