Interrupted stellar encounters in star clusters

Aaron M. Geller, Nathan W.C. Leigh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

17 Scopus citations

Abstract

Strong encounters between single stars and binaries play a pivotal role in the evolution of star clusters. Such encounters can also dramatically modify the orbital parameters of binaries, exchange partners in and out of binaries, and are a primary contributor to the rate of physical stellar collisions in star clusters. Often, these encounters are studied under the approximation that they happen quickly enough and within a small enough volume to be considered isolated from the rest of the cluster. In this paper, we study the validity of this assumption through the analysis of a large grid of single-binary and binary-binary scattering experiments. For each encounter we evaluate the encounter duration, and compare this with the expected time until another single or binary star will join the encounter. We find that for lower-mass clusters, similar to typical open clusters in our Galaxy, the percent of encounters that will be "interrupted" by an interloping star or binary may be 20%-40% (or higher) in the core, though for typical globular clusters we expect ≲1% of encounters to be interrupted. Thus, the assumption that strong encounters occur in relative isolation breaks down for certain clusters. Instead, many strong encounters develop into more complex "mini-clusters," which must be accounted for in studying, for example, the internal dynamics of star clusters, and the physical stellar collision rate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL25
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Volume808
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 20 2015

Keywords

  • binaries: general
  • galaxies: star clusters: general
  • globular clusters: general
  • methods: numerical
  • open clusters and associations: general
  • stars: kinematics and dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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