The Complete Evolution of a Neutron-star Binary through a Common Envelope Phase Using 1D Hydrodynamic Simulations

Tassos Fragos, Jeff J. Andrews, Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, Georges Meynet, Vicky Kalogera, Ronald E. Taam, Andreas Zezas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


Over 40 years of research suggests that the common envelope phase, in which an evolved star engulfs its companion upon expansion, is the critical evolutionary stage forming short-period, compact-object binary systems, such as coalescing double compact objects, X-ray binaries, and cataclysmic variables. In this work, we adapt the one-dimensional hydrodynamic stellar evolution code, MESA, to model the inspiral of a 1.4 M o neutron star (NS) inside the envelope of a 12 M o red supergiant star. We self-consistently calculate the drag force experienced by the NS and the back-reaction onto the expanding envelope as the NS spirals in. Nearly all of the hydrogen envelope escapes, expanding to large radii (∼102 au) where it forms an optically thick envelope with temperatures low enough that dust formation occurs. We simulate the NS orbit until only 0.8 M o of the hydrogen envelope remains around the giant star's core. Our results suggest that the inspiral will continue until another ≈0.3 M o are removed, at which point the remaining envelope will retract. Upon separation, a phase of dynamically stable mass transfer onto the NS accretor is likely to ensue, which may be observable as an ultraluminous X-ray source. The resulting binary, comprised of a detached 2.6 M o helium star and an NS with a separation of 3.3-5.7 R o, is expected to evolve into a merging double neutron-star, analogous to those recently detected by LIGO/Virgo. For our chosen combination of binary parameters, our estimated final separation (including the phase of stable mass transfer) suggests a very high α CE-equivalent efficiency of ≈5.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL45
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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