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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Social Stars: Modeling the Interactive Lives of Stars in Dense Clusters and Binary Systems in the Era of Time Domain Astronomy

  • Author(s): MacLeod, Morgan Elowe
  • Advisor(s): Ramirez-Ruiz, Enrico
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

This thesis uses computational modeling to study of phases of dramatic interaction that intersperse stellar lifetimes. In galactic centers stars trace dangerously wandering orbits dictated by the combined gravitational force of a central, supermassive black hole and all of the surrounding stars. In binary systems, stars' evolution -- which causes their radii to increase substantially -- can bring initially non-interacting systems into contact. Moments of strong stellar interaction transform stars, their subsequent evolution, and the stellar environments they inhabit.

In tidal disruption events, a star is partially or completely destroyed as tidal forces from a supermassive black hole overwhelm the star's self gravity. A portion of the stellar debris falls back to the black hole powering a luminous flare as it accretes. This thesis studies the relative event rates and properties of tidal disruption events for stars across the stellar evolutionary spectrum. Tidal disruptions of giant stars occur with high specific frequency; these objects' extended envelopes make them vulnerable to disruption. More-compact white dwarf stars are tidally disrupted relatively rarely. Their transients are also of very different duration and luminosity. Giant star disruptions power accretion flares with timescales of tens to hundreds of years; white dwarf disruption flares take hours to days. White dwarf tidal interactions can additionally trigger thermonuclear burning and lead to transients with signatures similar to type I supernovae.

In binary star systems, a phase of hydrodynamic interaction called a common envelope episode occurs when one star evolves to swallow its companion. Dragged by the surrounding gas, the companion star spirals through the envelope to tighter orbits. This thesis studies accretion and flow morphologies during this phase. Density gradients across the gravitationally-focussed material lead to a strong angular momentum barrier to accretion during common envelope. Typical accretion efficiencies are in the range of 1 percent the Hoyle-Lyttleton accretion rate. This implies that compact objects embedded in common envelopes do not grow significantly during this phase, increasing their mass by at most a few percent. This thesis models the properties of a recent stellar-merger powered transient to derive constraints on this long-uncertain phase of binary star evolution.

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