Hydrodynamic instability and coalescence of binary neutron stars

Dong Lai*, Frederic A. Rasio, Stuart L. Shapiro

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


We study the importance of hydrodynamic effects on the evolution of coalescing binary neutron stars. Using an approximate energy functional constructed from equilibrium solutions for polytropic binary configurations, we incorporate hydrodynamic effects into the calculation of the orbital decay driven by gravitational wave emission. In particular, we follow the transition between the quasi-static, secular decay of the orbit at large separation and the rapid dynamical evolution of configurations approaching contact. We show that a purely Newtonian hydrodynamic instability can significantly accelerate the coalescence at small separation. Such an instability occurs in all close binary configurations containing sufficiently incompressible stars. Calculations are performed for various neutron star masses, radii, and spins. The influence of the stiffness of the equation of state is also explored by varying the effective polytrpic index. Typically, we find that the radial infall velocity just prior to contact is about 10% of the tangential orbital velocity. Once the stability limit is reached, the final evolution only takes another orbit. Post-Newtonian effects can move the stability limit to a larger binary separation, and may induce an even larger radial velocity. We also consider the possibility of mass transfer from one neutron star to the other. We show that stable mass transfer is unlikely except when the mass of one of the components is very small(M ≲ 0.4 M ⊙) and the viscosity is high enough to maintain corotation. Otherwise, either the two stars come into contact or the dynamical instability sets in before a Roche limit can be reached.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)811-829
Number of pages19
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 10 1994


  • Binaries: close
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Instabilities
  • Radiation mechanisms: nonthermal
  • Stars: neutron
  • Stars: rotation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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