Viscous hydrodynamics simulations of circumbinary accretion discs: Variability, quasi-steady state and angular momentum transfer

Ryan Miranda*, Diego J. Muñoz, Dong Lai

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


We carry out numerical simulations of circumbinary discs, solving the viscous hydrodynamics equations on a polar grid covering an extended disc outside the binary co-orbital region. We use carefully controlled outer boundary conditions and long-term integrations to ensure that the disc reaches a quasi-steady state, in which the time-averaged mass accretion rate on to the binary, 〈 M˙ 〉, matches the mass supply rate at the outer disc. We focus on binaries with comparable masses and a wide range of eccentricities (eB). For eB ≲ 0.05, the mass accretion rate of the binary is modulated at about five times the binary period; otherwise, it is modulated at the binary period. The inner part of the circumbinary disc (r ≲ 6aB) generally becomes coherently eccentric. For low and high eB, the disc line of apsides precesses around the binary, but for intermediate eB (0.2-0.4), it instead becomes locked with that of the binary. By considering the balance of angular momentum transport through the disc by advection, viscous stress and gravitational torque, we determine the time-averaged net angular momentum transfer rate to the binary, 〈J˙ 〉. The specific angular momentum, l0 = 〈J˙〉/ 〈 M˙〉, depends nonmonotonically on eB. Contrary to previous claims, we find that l0 is positive for most eB, implying that the binary receives net angular momentum, which may cause its separation to grow with time. The minimum l0 occurs at intermediate eB (0.2-0.4), corresponding to the regime where the inner eccentric disc is apsidally aligned with the binary.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1170-1191
Number of pages22
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017


  • Accretion, accretion discs
  • Binaries: general
  • Black hole physics
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Stars: pre-main-sequence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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