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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 amore »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 I 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 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 secondarymore »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, 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
  3. Abstract The recent detection of GW190521 stimulated ideas on how to populate the predicted black hole (BH) pair-instability (PI) mass gap. One proposal is the dynamical merger of two stars below the PI regime forming a star with a small core and an oversized envelope. We outline the main challenges this scenario faces to form one BH in the gap. In particular, the core needs to avoid growing during the merger, and the merger product needs to retain enough mass, including in the subsequent evolution, and at core collapse (CC). We explore this scenario with detailed stellar evolution calculations, startingmore »with ad hoc initial conditions enforcing no core growth during the merger. We find that these massive merger products are likely to be helium-rich and spend most of their remaining lifetime within regions of instabilities in the Herzsprung–Russell diagram, such as luminous blue variable eruptions. An energetic estimate of the amount of mass loss neglecting the back reaction of the star suggests that the total amount of mass that can be removed at low metallicity is ≲1 M ⊙ . This is small enough that at CC our models are retaining sufficient mass to form BHs in the PI gap similar to the recent ones detected by LIGO/Virgo. However, mass loss at the time of merger, the resulting core structure, and the mass loss at CC still need to be quantified for these models to confirm the viability of this scenario.« less
  4. ABSTRACT Mergers of binaries comprising compact objects can give rise to explosive transient events, heralding the birth of exotic objects that cannot be formed through single-star evolution. Using a large number of direct N-body simulations, we explore the possibility that a white dwarf (WD) is dynamically driven to tidal disruption by a stellar-mass black hole (BH) as a consequence of the joint effects of gravitational wave (GW) emission and Lidov–Kozai oscillations imposed by the tidal field of an outer tertiary companion orbiting the inner BH–WD binary. We explore the sensitivity of our results to the distributions of natal kick velocitiesmore »imparted to the BH and WD upon formation, adiabatic mass loss, semimajor axes and eccentricities of the triples, and stellar-mass ratios. We find rates of WD–tidal disruption events (TDEs) in the range 1.2 × 10−3 − 1.4 Gpc−3 yr−1 for z ≤ 0.1, rarer than stellar TDEs in triples by a factor of ∼3–30. The uncertainty in the TDE rates may be greatly reduced in the future using GW observations of Galactic binaries and triples with LISA. WD–TDEs may give rise to high-energy X-ray or gamma-ray transients of duration similar to long gamma-ray bursts but lacking the signatures of a core-collapse supernova, while being accompanied by a supernova-like optical transient that lasts for only days. WD–BH and WD–NS binaries will also emit GWs in the LISA band before the TDE. The discovery and identification of triple-induced WD–TDE events by future time domain surveys and/or GWs could enable the study of the demographics of BHs in nearby galaxies.« less