skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Thursday, May 23 until 2:00 AM ET on Friday, May 24 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Search for: All records

Award ID contains: 1831412

Note: When clicking on a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) number, you will be taken to an external site maintained by the publisher. Some full text articles may not yet be available without a charge during the embargo (administrative interval).
What is a DOI Number?

Some links on this page may take you to non-federal websites. Their policies may differ from this site.


    Two-body scatterings under the potential of a massive object are very common in astrophysics. If the massive body is far enough away that the two small bodies are in their own gravitational sphere of influence, the gravity of the massive body can be temporarily ignored. However, this requires the scattering process to be fast enough that the small objects do not spend too much time at distances near the surface of the sphere of influence. In this paper, we derive the validation criteria for effective two-body scattering and establish a simple analytical solution for this process, which we verify through numerical scattering experiments. We use this solution to study star–black hole scatterings in the discs of active galactic nuclei and planet–planet scatterings in planetary systems, and calculate their one-dimensional cross-section analytically. Our solution will be valuable in reducing computational time when treating two-body scatterings under the potential of a much more massive third body, provided that the problem settings are in the valid parameter space region identified by our study.

    more » « less

    Stars and stellar remnants orbiting a supermassive black hole (SMBH) can interact with an active galactic nucleus (AGN) disc. Over time, prograde orbiters (inclination i < 90°) decrease inclination, as well as semimajor axis (a) and eccentricity (e) until orbital alignment with the gas disc (‘disc capture’). Captured stellar-origin black holes (sBH) add to the embedded AGN population that drives sBH–sBH mergers detectable in gravitational waves using LIGO–Virgo–KAGRA or sBH–SMBH mergers detectable with Laser Interferometer Space Antenna. Captured stars can be tidally disrupted by sBH or the SMBH or rapidly grow into massive ‘immortal’ stars. Here, we investigate the behaviour of polar and retrograde orbiters (i ≥ 90°) interacting with the disc. We show that retrograde stars are captured faster than prograde stars, flip to prograde orientation (i < 90°) during capture, and decrease a dramatically towards the SMBH. For sBH, we find a critical angle iret ∼ 113°, below which retrograde sBH decay towards embedded prograde orbits (i → 0°), while for io > iret sBH decay towards embedded retrograde orbits (i → 180°). sBH near polar orbits (i ∼ 90°) and stars on nearly embedded retrograde orbits (i ∼ 180°) show the greatest decreases in a. Whether a star is captured by the disc within an AGN lifetime depends primarily on disc density, and secondarily on stellar type and initial a. For sBH, disc capture time is longest for polar orbits, low-mass sBH, and lower density discs. Larger mass sBH should typically spend more time in AGN discs, with implications for the spin distribution of embedded sBH.

    more » « less

    Galactic nuclei are promising sites for stellar origin black hole (BH) mergers, as part of merger hierarchies in deep potential wells. We show that binary black hole (BBH) merger rates in active galactic nuclei (AGNs) should always exceed merger rates in quiescent galactic nuclei (nuclear star clusters, NSCs) around supermassive black holes (SMBHs) without accretion discs. This is primarily due to average binary lifetimes in AGNs that are significantly shorter than those in NSCs. The lifetime difference comes from rapid hardening of BBHs in AGNs, such that their semimajor axes are smaller than the hard–soft boundary of their parent NSC; this contrasts with the large average lifetime to merger for BBHs in NSCs around SMBHs, due to binary ionization mechanisms. Secondarily, merger rates in AGNs are enhanced by gas-driven binary formation mechanisms. Formation of new BHs in AGN discs is a minor contributor to the rate differences. With the gravitational wave detection of several BBHs with at least one progenitor in the upper mass gap, and signatures of dynamical formation channels in the χeff distribution, we argue that AGNs could contribute $\sim 25{\!-\!}80{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$ of the LIGO–Virgo measured rate of $\sim 24\, \rm {Gpc}^{-3} \rm {yr}^{-1}$.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    The accretion disks of active galactic nuclei (AGNs) are promising locations for the merger of compact objects detected by gravitational wave (GW) observatories. Embedded within a baryon-rich, high-density environment, mergers within AGNs are the only GW channel where an electromagnetic (EM) counterpart must occur (whether detectable or not). Considering AGNs with unusual flaring activity observed by the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), we describe a search for candidate EM counterparts to binary black hole (BBH) mergers detected by LIGO/Virgo in O3. After removing probable false positives, we find nine candidate counterparts to BBH mergers during O3 (seven in O3a, two in O3b) with ap-value of 0.0019. Based on ZTF sky coverage, AGN geometry, and merger geometry, we expect ≈3(NBBH/83)(fAGN/0.5) potentially detectable EM counterparts from O3, whereNBBHis the total number of observed BBH mergers andfAGNis the fraction originating in AGNs. Further modeling of breakout and flaring phenomena in AGN disks is required to reduce our false-positive rate. Two of the events are also associated with mergers with total masses >100M, which is the expected rate for O3 if hierarchical (large-mass) mergers occur in the AGN channel. Candidate EM counterparts in future GW observing runs can be better constrained by coverage of the Southern sky as well as spectral monitoring of unusual AGN flaring events in LIGO/Virgo alert volumes. A future set of reliable AGN EM counterparts to BBH mergers will yield an independent means of measuring cosmic expansion (H0) as a function of redshift.

    more » « less
  5. 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 102–4, confined to the innerrcap∼ 3000rs∼ 0.03 pc. These stars can profoundly alter the chemistry of AGN disks, enriching them in 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 10M. 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.

    more » « less

    We analyse strongly lensed images in eight galaxy clusters to measure their dark matter density profiles in the radial region between 10 kpc and 150 kpc, and use this to constrain the self-interaction cross-section of dark matter (DM) particles. We infer the mass profiles of the central DM haloes, bright central galaxies, key member galaxies, and DM subhaloes for the member galaxies for all eight clusters using the qlens code. The inferred DM halo surface densities are fit to a self-interacting dark matter model, which allows us to constrain the self-interaction cross-section over mass σ/m. When our full method is applied to mock data generated from two clusters in the Illustris-TNG simulation, we find results consistent with no dark matter self-interactions as expected. For the eight observed clusters with average relative velocities of $1458_{-81}^{+80}$ km s−1, we infer $\sigma /m = 0.082_{-0.021}^{+0.027} \rm cm^2\, g^{ -1}$ and $\sigma /m \lt 0.13~ \rm cm^2\, g^{ -1}$ at the 95 per cent confidence level.

    more » « less
  7. Abstract

    We present a survey for photometric variability in young, low-mass brown dwarfs with the Spitzer Space Telescope. The 23 objects in our sample show robust signatures of youth and share properties with directly imaged exoplanets. We present three new young objects: 2MASS J03492367+0635078, 2MASS J09512690−8023553, and 2MASS J07180871−6415310. We detect variability in 13 young objects, and find that young brown dwarfs are highly likely to display variability across the L2–T4 spectral type range. In contrast, the field dwarf variability occurrence rate drops for spectral types >L9. We examine the variability amplitudes of young objects and find an enhancement in maximum amplitudes compared to field dwarfs. We speculate that the observed range of amplitudes within a spectral type may be influenced by secondary effects such as viewing inclination and/or rotation period. We combine our new rotation periods with the literature to investigate the effects of mass on angular momentum evolution. While high-mass brown dwarfs (>30MJup) spin up over time, the same trend is not apparent for lower-mass objects (<30MJup), likely due to the small number of measured periods for old, low-mass objects. The rotation periods of companion brown dwarfs and planetary-mass objects are consistent with those of isolated objects with similar ages and masses, suggesting similar angular momentum histories. Within the AB Doradus group, we find a high-variability occurrence rate and evidence for common angular momentum evolution. The results are encouraging for future variability searches in directly imaged exoplanets with facilities such as the James Webb Space Telescope and 30 m telescopes.

    more » « less
  8. Abstract

    We describe the survey design, calibration, commissioning, and emission-line detection algorithms for the Hobby–Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment (HETDEX). The goal of HETDEX is to measure the redshifts of over a million Lyαemitting galaxies between 1.88 <z< 3.52, in a 540 deg2area encompassing a comoving volume of 10.9 Gpc3. No preselection of targets is involved; instead the HETDEX measurements are accomplished via a spectroscopic survey using a suite of wide-field integral field units distributed over the focal plane of the telescope. This survey measures the Hubble expansion parameter and angular diameter distance, with a final expected accuracy of better than 1%. We detail the project’s observational strategy, reduction pipeline, source detection, and catalog generation, and present initial results for science verification in the Cosmological Evolution Survey, Extended Groth Strip, and Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey North fields. We demonstrate that our data reach the required specifications in throughput, astrometric accuracy, flux limit, and object detection, with the end products being a catalog of emission-line sources, their object classifications, and flux-calibrated spectra.

    more » « less

    Low ionization nuclear emission-line regions (LINERs) are a heterogeneous collection of up to one-third of galactic nuclei in the local Universe. It is unclear whether LINERs are simply the result of low accretion rates onto supermassive black holes (BHs) or whether they include a large number of optically thick radiatively inefficient but super-Eddington accretion flows (RIAFs). Optically thick RIAFs are typically discs of large-scale height or quasi-spherical gas flows. These should be dense enough to trap and merge a large number of the stellar mass BHs, which we expect to exist in galactic nuclei. Electromagnetic observations of photospheres of accretion flows do not allow us to break model degeneracies. However, gravitational wave observations probe the interior of accretion flows where the merger of stellar mass BHs can be greatly accelerated over the field rate. Here, we show that the upper limits on the rate of BH mergers observed with LIGO demonstrate that most LINERs cannot be optically thick RIAFs.

    more » « less