Binary black hole mergers from field triples: properties, rates and the impact of stellar evolution

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Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Northwestern Univ
  • Institute for Advanced Study


We consider the formation of binary black hole mergers through the evolution of field massive triple stars. In this scenario, favorable conditions for the inspiral of a black hole binary are initiated by its gravitational interaction with a distant companion, rather than by a common-envelope phase invoked in standard binary evolution models. We use a code that follows self-consistently the evolution of massive triple stars, combining the secular triple dynamics (Lidov-Kozai cycles) with stellar evolution. After a black hole triple is formed, its dynamical evolution is computed using either the orbit-averaged equations of motion, or a high-precision direct integrator for triples with weaker hierarchies for which the secular perturbation theory breaks down. Most black hole mergers in our models are produced in the latter non-secular dynamical regime. We derive the properties of the merging binaries and compute a black hole merger rate in the range (0.3- 1.3) Gpc^{-3}yr^{-1}, or up to ~2.5Gpc^{-3}yr^{-1} if the black hole orbital planes have initially random orientation. Finally, we show that black hole mergers from the triple channel have significantly higher eccentricities than those formed through the evolution of massive binaries or in dense star clusters. Measured eccentricities could therefore be used to uniquely identify binary mergers formed through the evolution of triple stars. While our results suggest up to ~10 detections per year with Advanced-LIGO, the high eccentricities could render the merging binaries harder to detect with planned space based interferometers such as LISA.

Bibliographic note

Accepted for publication in ApJ. 10 pages, 6 figures


Original languageEnglish
Article number77
Number of pages10
JournalThe Astrophysical Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 25 May 2017


  • stars: black holes, stars: massive