The evolution of hierarchical triple star-systems

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External organisations

  • Leiden University


Field stars are frequently formed in pairs, and many of these binaries are part of triples or even higher-order systems. Even though, the principles of single stellar evolution and binary evolution, have been accepted for a long time, the long-term evolution of stellar triples is poorly understood. The presence of a third star in an orbit around a binary system can significantly alter the evolution of those stars and the binary system. The rich dynamical behavior in three-body systems can give rise to Lidov-Kozai cycles, in which the eccentricity of the inner orbit and the inclination between the inner and outer orbit vary periodically. In turn, this can lead to an enhancement of tidal effects (tidal friction), gravitational-wave emission and stellar interactions such as mass transfer and collisions. The lack of a self-consistent treatment of triple evolution, including both three-body dynamics as well as stellar evolution, hinders the systematic study and general understanding of the long-term evolution of triple systems. In this paper, we aim to address some of these hiatus, by discussing the dominant physical processes of hierarchical triple evolution, and presenting heuristic recipes for these processes. To improve our understanding on hierarchical stellar triples, these descriptions are implemented in a public source code TrES which combines three-body dynamics (based on the secular approach) with stellar evolution and their mutual influences. Note that modeling through a phase of stable mass transfer in an eccentric orbit is currently not implemented in TrES , but can be implemented with the appropriate methodology at a later stage.

Bibliographic note

40 pages, 14 figures, accepted for publication


Original languageEnglish
Article number6
Number of pages36
JournalComputational Astrophysics and Cosmology
Publication statusPublished - 23 Dec 2016


  • binaries (including multiple): close, stars: evolution