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  1. Abstract Linear analysis of gas flows around orbiting binaries suggests that a centrifugal barrier ought to clear a low-density cavity around the binary and inhibit mass transfer onto it. Modern hydrodynamics simulations have confirmed the low-density cavity, but show that any mass flowing from large scales into the circumbinary disk is eventually transferred onto the binary components. Even though many numerical studies confirm this picture, it is still not understood precisely how gas parcels overcome the centrifugal barrier and ultimately accrete. We present a detailed analysis of the binary accretion process, using an accurate prescription for evolving grid-based hydrodynamics with Lagrangian tracer particles that track the trajectories of individual gas parcels. We find that binary accretion can be described in four phases: (1) gas is viscously transported through the circumbinary disk up to the centrifugal barrier at the cavity wall, (2) the cavity wall is tidally distorted into accretion streams consisting of near-ballistic gas parcels on eccentric orbits, (3) the portion of each stream moving inwards of an accretion horizon radius r ¯ ≃ a —the radius beyond which no material is returned to the cavity wall—becomes bound to a minidisk orbiting an individual binary component, and (4) the minidisk gas accretes onto the binary component through the combined effect of viscous and tidal stresses. 
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