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  1. Abstract

    The neighborhood of the Galactic black hole boasts a plethora of extended interstellar gas and dust features, as well as populations of compact (unresolved or marginally resolved) features such as the G objects. Most are well manifested in the infrared. To disentangle and characterize the infrared structure of the extended features and identify compact sources, we used 3.8μm (L′ filter) data from the NIRC2 imager at the Keck Observatory and 8.6μm (PAH1 filter) data from the VISIR imager at the Very Large Telescope to produce the highest-resolution mid-IR color temperature map of the inner half-parsec of the Galactic center to date. From this map, we compile a catalog of features that stand out from their background. In particular, we identify 33 compact sources that stand out against the local background temperature, 11 of which are newly identified and candidates for being members of the G object population. Additionally, we resolve and newly characterize the morphology of several known extended features. These results prepare the way for ongoing and future JWST studies that have access to a greater range of mid-infrared wavelengths and thus will allow for refined estimation of the trends of dust temperatures.

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  2. Abstract

    We present the first estimate of the intrinsic binary fraction of young stars across the central ≈0.4 pc surrounding the supermassive black hole (SMBH) at the Milky Way Galactic center (GC). This experiment searched for photometric variability in 102 spectroscopically confirmed young stars, using 119 nights of 10″ wide adaptive optics imaging observations taken at W. M. Keck Observatory over 16 yr in theK-[2.1μm] andH-[1.6μm] bands. We photometrically detected three binary stars, all of which are situated more than 1″ (0.04 pc) from the SMBH and one of which, S2-36, is newly reported here with spectroscopic confirmation. All are contact binaries or have photometric variability originating from stellar irradiation. To convert the observed binary fraction into an estimate of the underlying binary fraction, we determined the experimental sensitivity through detailed light-curve simulations, incorporating photometric effects of eclipses, irradiation, and tidal distortion in binaries. The simulations assumed a population of young binaries, with stellar ages (4 Myr) and masses matched to the most probable values measured for the GC young star population, and underlying binary system parameters (periods, mass ratios, and eccentricities) similar to those of local massive stars. As might be expected, our experimental sensitivity decreases for eclipses narrower in phase. The detections and simulations imply that the young, massive stars in the GC have a stellar binary fraction ≥71% (68% confidence), or ≥42% (95% confidence). This inferred GC young star binary fraction is consistent with that typically seen in young stellar populations in the solar neighborhood. Furthermore, our measured binary fraction is significantly higher than that recently reported by Chu et al. based on radial velocity measurements for stars ≲1″ of the SMBH. Constrained with these two studies, the probability that the same underlying young star binary fraction extends across the entire region is <1.4%. This tension provides support for a radial dependence of the binary star fraction, and therefore, for the dynamical predictions of binary merger and evaporation events close to the SMBH.

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  3. Abstract

    The inner few parsecs of the Milky Way’s Galactic center contain the central accreting supermassive black hole, over a million stars, and multiple large gaseous structures. In the past, the structures at these length scales have generally been modeled independently of each other. It is consequently not well understood how these complex features interact with each other, nor how gas flows between the outer few parsecs and the inner subarcsecond region (1″ ≈ 0.04 pc). In this work, we present hydrodynamic simulations of the inner few parsecs of the Galactic center that, for the first time, combine a realistic treatment of stellar winds and the circumnuclear disk (CND) as they interact with the gravitational potential of the nuclear star cluster and Sagittarius A*. We observe interactions of the stellar winds with the inner edge of the CND, which leads to the growth of instabilities, induced accretion of cool gas from the inner edge of the disk, and the eventual formation of a small accretion disk of ∼104–105K withinr∼ 0.1 pc. The formation of an inner disk qualitatively agrees with observations. This disk grows in radial extent and mass with time on ≳10 kyr timescales, with a growth rate ofMtkyr3.5. We discuss additional physical mechanisms not yet included in this work that can improve our model.

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  4. Abstract

    The nonthermal filament (NTF) radio structures clustered within a few hundred parsecs of the Galactic center (GC) are apparently unique to this region of the Galaxy. Recent radio images of the GC using MeerKAT at 1 GHz have revealed a multitude of faint, previously unknown NTF bundles (NTFBs), some of which are comprised of as many as 10 or more individual filaments. In this work we present Very Large Array observations at theC- andX-bands (4–12 GHz) at arcsecond-scale resolutions of three of these newly discovered NTFBs, all located at southern Galactic latitudes. These observations allow us to compare their total-intensity properties with those of the larger NTF population. We find that these targets generally possess properties similar to what is observed in the larger NTF population. However, the larger NTF population generally has steeper spectral indices than what we observe for our chosen targets. The results presented here based on the total-intensity properties of these structures indicate that the NTFs are likely a result of synchrotron emission from relativistic electrons that have been generated either by a nearby compact source or by extended magnetic field structures in which the magnetic field line reconnection has accelerated the electrons. In either scenario, once the relativistic electrons are produced and injected locally into the field they diffuse along the magnetic field lines, producing the filaments.

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  5. Abstract

    Sgr A* is the variable electromagnetic source associated with accretion onto the Galactic center supermassive black hole. While the near-infrared (NIR) variability of Sgr A* was shown to be consistent over two decades, unprecedented activity in 2019 challenges existing statistical models. We investigate the origin of this activity by recalibrating and reanalyzing all of our Keck Observatory Sgr A* imaging observations from 2005–2022. We present light curves from 69 observation epochs using the NIRC2 imager at 2.12μm with laser-guide star adaptive optics. These observations reveal that the mean luminosity of Sgr A* increased by a factor of ∼3 in 2019, and the 2019 light curves had higher variance than in all time periods we examined. We find that the 2020–2022 flux distribution is statistically consistent with the historical sample and model predictions, but with fewer bright measurements above 0.6 mJy at the ∼2σlevel. Since 2019, we have observed a maximumKs(2.2μm) flux of 0.9 mJy, compared to the highest pre-2019 flux of 2.0 mJy and highest 2019 flux of 5.6 mJy. Our results suggest that the 2019 activity was caused by a temporary accretion increase onto Sgr A*, possibly due to delayed accretion of tidally stripped gas from the gaseous object G2 in 2014. We also examine faint Sgr A* fluxes over a long time baseline to search for a quasi-steady quiescent state. We find that Sgr A* displays flux variations over a factor of ∼500, with no evidence for a quiescent state in the NIR.

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  6. Abstract

    We present new absolute proper-motion measurements for the Arches and Quintuplet clusters, two young massive star clusters near the Galactic center. Using multiepoch HST observations, we construct proper-motion catalogs for the Arches (∼35,000 stars) and Quintuplet (∼40,000 stars) fields in ICRF coordinates established using stars in common with the Gaia EDR3 catalog. The bulk proper motions of the clusters are measured to be (μα*,μδ) = (−0.80 ± 0.032, −1.89 ± 0.021) mas yr−1for the Arches and (μα*,μδ) = (−0.96 ± 0.032, −2.29 ± 0.023) mas yr−1for the Quintuplet, achieving ≳5× higher precision than past measurements. We place the first constraints on the properties of the cluster orbits that incorporate the uncertainty in their current line-of-sight distances. The clusters will not approach closer than ∼25 pc to Sgr A*, making it unlikely that they will inspiral into the nuclear star cluster within their lifetime. Further, the cluster orbits are not consistent with being circular; the average value ofrapo/rperiis ∼1.9 (equivalent to an eccentricity of ∼0.31) for both clusters. Lastly, we find that the clusters do not share a common orbit, challenging one proposed formation scenario in which the clusters formed from molecular clouds on the open stream orbit derived by Kruijssen et al. Meanwhile, our constraints on the birth location and velocity of the clusters offer mild support for a scenario in which the clusters formed via collisions between gas clouds on thex1andx2bar orbit families.

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  7. Context.The Galactic Center black hole and the nuclear star cluster are surrounded by a clumpy ring of gas and dust, the circumnuclear disk (CND), that rotates about them at a standoff distance of ≃1.5 pc. The mass and density of individual clumps in the CND are disputed.

    Aims.We seek to use H2to characterize the clump size distribution and to investigate the morphology and dynamics of the interface between the ionized interior layer of the CND and the molecular reservoir lying farther out (corresponding to the inner rim of the CND, illuminated in ultraviolet light by the central star cluster).

    Methods.We have observed two fields of approximately 20″ × 20″ in the CND at near-infrared wavelengths with the OSIRIS spectro-imager at the Keck Observatory. These two fields, located at the approaching and receding nodes of the CND, best display this interface. Our data cover two H2lines as well as the Brγline (tracing H II). We have developed the tool CubeFit, an original method for extracting maps of continuous physical parameters (such as the velocity field and velocity dispersion) from integral-field spectroscopy data, using regularization to largely preserve spatial resolution in regions of low signal-to-noise ratio.

    Results.This original method enables us to isolate compact, bright features in the interstellar medium of the CND. Several clumps in the southwestern field assume the appearance of filaments, many of which are parallel to one another. We conclude that these clumps cannot be self-gravitating.

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  8. Abstract We present high-resolution (∼2–3″; ∼0.1 pc) radio observations of the Galactic center cloud M0.10−0.08 using the Very Large Array at K and Ka band (∼25 and 36 GHz). The M0.10−0.08 cloud is located in a complex environment near the Galactic center Radio Arc and the adjacent M0.11−0.11 molecular cloud. From our data, M0.10−0.08 appears to be a compact molecular cloud (∼3 pc) that contains multiple compact molecular cores (5+; <0.4 pc). In this study, we detect a total of 15 molecular transitions in M0.10−0.08 from the following molecules: NH 3 , HC 3 N, CH 3 OH, HC 5 N, CH 3 CN, and OCS. We have identified more than sixty 36 GHz CH 3 OH masers in M0.10−0.08 with brightness temperatures above 400 K and 31 maser candidates with temperatures between 100 and 400 K. We conduct a kinematic analysis of the gas using NH 3 and detect multiple velocity components toward this region of the Galactic center. The bulk of the gas in this region has a velocity of 51.5 km s −1 (M0.10−0.08) with a lower-velocity wing at 37.6 km s −1 . We also detect a relatively faint velocity component at 10.6 km s −1 that we attribute to being an extension of the M0.11−0.11 cloud. Analysis of the gas kinematics, combined with past X-ray fluorescence observations, suggests M0.10−0.08 and M0.11−0.11 are located in the same vicinity of the Galactic center and could be physically interacting. 
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  9. Abstract

    We report the first star formation history study of the Milky Ways nuclear star cluster (NSC), which includes observational constraints from a large sample of stellar metallicity measurements. These metallicity measurements were obtained from recent surveys from Gemini and the Very Large Telescope of 770 late-type stars within the central 1.5 pc. These metallicity measurements, along with photometry and spectroscopically derived temperatures, are forward modeled with a Bayesian inference approach. Including metallicity measurements improves the overall fit quality, as the low-temperature red giants that were previously difficult to constrain are now accounted for, and the best fit favors a two-component model. The dominant component contains 93% ± 3% of the mass, is metal-rich ([M/H]¯0.45), and has an age of52+3Gyr, which is ∼3 Gyr younger than earlier studies with fixed (solar) metallicity; this younger age challenges coevolutionary models in which the NSC and supermassive black holes formed simultaneously at early times. The minor population component has low metallicity ([M/H]¯1.1) and contains ∼7% of the stellar mass. The age of the minor component is uncertain (0.1–5 Gyr old). Using the estimated parameters, we infer the following NSC stellar remnant population (with ∼18% uncertainty): 1.5 × 105neutron stars, 2.5 × 105stellar-mass black holes (BHs), and 2.2 × 104BH–BH binaries. These predictions result in 2–4 times fewer neutron stars compared to earlier predictions that assume solar metallicity, introducing a possible new path to understand the so-called “missing-pulsar problem”. Finally, we present updated predictions for the BH–BH merger rates (0.01–3 Gpc−3yr−1).

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  10. Abstract

    We present two decades of new high-angular-resolution near-infrared data from the W. M. Keck Observatory that reveal extreme evolution in X7, an elongated dust and gas feature, presently located half an arcsecond from the Galactic Center supermassive black hole. With both spectro-imaging observations of Br-γline emission andLp(3.8μm) imaging data, we provide the first estimate of its orbital parameters and quantitative characterization of the evolution of its morphology and mass. We find that the leading edge of X7 appears to be on a mildly eccentric (e∼ 0.3), relatively short-period (170 yr) orbit and is headed toward periapse passage, estimated to occur in ∼2036. Furthermore, our kinematic measurements rule out the earlier suggestion that X7 is associated with the stellar source S0-73 or with any other point source that has overlapped with X7 during our monitoring period. Over the course of our observations, X7 has (1) become more elongated, with a current length-to-width ratio of 9, (2) maintained a very consistent long-axis orientation (position angle of 50°), (3) inverted its radial velocity differential from tip to tail from −50 to +80 km s−1, and (4) sustained its total brightness (12.8Lpmagnitudes at the leading edge) and color temperature (425 K), which suggest a constant mass of ∼50MEarth. We present a simple model showing that these results are compatible with the expected effect of tidal forces exerted on it by the central black hole, and we propose that X7 is the gas and dust recently ejected from a grazing collision in a binary system.

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