Stellar binaries in galactic nuclei: tidally stimulated mergers followed by tidal disruptions

B Bradnick, Ilya Mandel, Y. Levin

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We investigate interactions of stellar binaries in galactic nuclear clusters with a massive black hole (MBH). We consider binaries on highly eccentric orbits around the MBH that change due to random gravitational interactions with other stars in the nuclear stellar cluster. The pericentres of the orbits perform a random walk, and we consider cases where this random walk slowly brings the binary to the Hills tidal separation radius (the so-called empty loss-cone regime). However, we find that in a majority of cases, the expected separation does not occur and instead the members of the binary merge together. This happens because the binary's eccentricity is excited by tidal interactions with the MBH, and the relative excursions of the internal eccentricity of the binary far exceed those in its internal semimajor axis. This frequently reduces the pericentre separation to values below typical stellar diameters, which induces a significant fraction of such binaries to merge (≳75 per cent in our set of numerical experiments). Stellar tides do not appreciably change the total rate of mergers but circularize binaries, leading to a significant fraction of low-eccentricity, low-impact-velocity mergers. Some of the stellar merger products will then be tidally disrupted by the MBH within ∼106 yr. If the merger strongly enhances the magnetic field of the merger product, this process could explain observations of prompt relativistic jet formation in some tidal disruption events.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2042-2048
JournalRoyal Astronomical Society. Monthly Notices
Early online date26 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


  • binaries: close
  • stars: kinematics and dynamics
  • galaxies: nuclei


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