Smadar Naoz, Tassos Fragos, Aaron Geller, Alexander P. Stephan, Frederic A. Rasio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


The formation of black hole (BH) low-mass X-ray binaries (LMXB) poses a theoretical challenge, as low-mass companions are not expected to survive the common-envelope scenario with the BH progenitor. Here we propose a formation mechanism that skips the common-envelope scenario and relies on triple-body dynamics. We study the evolution of hierarchical triples following the secular dynamical evolution up to the octupole-level of approximation, including general relativity, tidal effects, and post-main-sequence evolution such as mass loss, changes to stellar radii, and supernovae. During the dynamical evolution of the triple system the "eccentric Kozai-Lidov" mechanism can cause large eccentricity excitations in the LMXB progenitor, resulting in three main BH-LMXB formation channels. Here we define BH-LMXB candidates as systems where the inner BH-companion star crosses its Roche limit. In the "eccentric" channel (∼81% of the LMXBs in our simulations) the donor star crosses its Roche limit during an extreme eccentricity excitation while still on a wide orbit. Second, we find a "giant" LMXB channel (∼11%), where a system undergoes only moderate eccentricity excitations but the donor star fills its Roche-lobe after evolving toward the giant branch. Third, we identify a "classical" channel (∼8%), where tidal forces and magnetic braking shrink and circularize the orbit to short periods, triggering mass-transfer. Finally, for the giant channel we predict an eccentric (∼0.3-0.6) preferably inclined (∼40°, ∼140°) tertiary, typically on a wide enough orbit (∼104 au) to potentially become unbound later in the triple evolution. While this initial study considers only one representative system and neglects BH natal kicks, we expect our scenario to apply across a broad region of parameter space for triple-star systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL24
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 10 2016


  • X-rays: binaries
  • stars: kinematics and dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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