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Evolution and Fate of White Dwarfs around Massive Black Holes

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

Evolution and Fate of White Dwarfs around Massive Black Holes
A tidal disruption event (TDE) occurs when a star passes close to a massive black hole (BH) and is torn apart by tidal forces. The tidal disruption of a white dwarf (WD) is especially intriguing because such events are only visible if the BH mass is less than 100,000 solar masses. As current evidence for the existence of intermediate mass black holes (IMBHs) is uncertain, observing these events could provide insight into the IMBH population. Previous study has focused on the final disruption of stars. However, a likely scenario arises when the BH captures the WD into an eccentric orbit with a pericenter distance that is too large for the WD to suffer immediate disruption. In this case, the WD could undergo multiple orbits, perhaps producing multiple flares. In the future, gravitational waves from this type of inspiral could be detected by space-based interferometers. A system with such a distinctive signal is a strong candidate for a dual detection via gravitational waves and electromagnetic radiation. We propose to characterize how the orbit and structure of a WD in an eccentric orbit around a BH change over multiple pericenter passages, culminating in tidal disruption. We will focus on the effects of dynamical tides (oscillations in the WD excited by the tidal force from the BH) and mass transfer. We will accomplish this work both by employing analytical methods and through manipulating a numerical WD model. Our work is relevant to the NASA Astrophysics division because it relates to the goals of i) discovering how the universe works at the most fundamental level and ii) developing analysis techniques that can be applied to future major missions. In addition, by enhancing our understanding of TDE data, this project will increase the science return from current and future missions and telescopes that detect TDE candidates, such as CHANDRA, SWIFT, and the LSST. More »

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