Alessia Gualandris

Dr Alessia Gualandris


Head of Astrophysics Research Group, Senior Lecturer

Academic and research departments

Astrophysics Research Group.

Biography

Biography

Alessia Gualandris joined the Department as lecturer in 2013.She started her research at the University of Milano Bicocca in Italy, where she obtained her MPhys degree for her theoretical/numerical studies of dynamical encounters in the dense cores of globular clusters. She received her PhD in 2006 from the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, for her interdisciplinary work between astronomy and computer science, and in particular for the development of software for the simulation of dense stellar systems and her study of the ejection of high velocity stars. In those years, she became one of the few experts in adopting special purpose hardware for the efficient simulation of globular clusters and galactic nuclei.During her postdoctoral studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology (USA), at the Max-Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, Germany and at the University of Leicester, she used state-of-the-art numerical simulations to study the dynamics of the Milky Way centre and other galactic nuclei hosting supermassive black holes. Through international collaborations and software development, she continues to push the limits of numerical methods to study the formation and dynamical evolution of the densest astrophysical systems.

 

Research interests

  • Dynamics of dense stellar systems: star clusters, galactic nuclei.
  • Evolution of supermassive black hole binaries and gravitational wave sources.
  • Computational astrophysics.

My teaching

Courses I teach on

Undergraduate

My publications

Publications

A Pontzen, JI Read, R Teyssier, F Governato, A Gualandris, N Roth, J Devriendt (2015)Milking the spherical cow - on aspherical dynamics in spherical coordinates, In: MONTHLY NOTICES OF THE ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY451(2)pp. 1366-1379 OXFORD UNIV PRESS
Filippo Contenta, Eduardo Balbinot, James Petts, Justin Read, Mark Gieles, Michelle Collins, Jorge Peñarrubia, Maxime Delorme, Alessia Gualandris (2018)Probing dark matter with star clusters: a dark matter core in the ultra-faint dwarf Eridanus II, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Oxford University Press (OUP)

We present a new technique to probe the central dark matter (DM) density profile of galaxies that harnesses both the survival and observed properties of star clusters. As a first application, we apply our method to the `ultra-faint' dwarf Eridanus II (Eri II) that has a lone star cluster ~45 pc from its centre. Using a grid of collisional N-body simulations, incorporating the effects of stellar evolution, external tides and dynamical friction, we show that a DM core for Eri II naturally reproduces the size and the projected position of its star cluster. By contrast, a dense cusped galaxy requires the cluster to lie implausibly far from the centre of Eri II (>1 kpc), with a high inclination orbit that must be observed at a particular orbital phase. Our results imply that either a cold DM cusp was `heated up' at the centre of Eri II by bursty star formation, or we are seeing an evidence for physics beyond cold DM.

A Gualandris, D Merritt (2007)Dynamics around supermassive black holes

The dynamics of galactic nuclei reflects the presence of supermassive black holes (SBHs) in many ways. Single SBHs act as sinks, destroying a mass in stars equal to their own mass in roughly one relaxation time and forcing nuclei to expand. Formation of binary SBHs displaces a mass in stars roughly equal to the binary mass, creating low-density cores and ejecting hyper-velocity stars. Gravitational radiation recoil can eject coalescing binary SBHs from nuclei, resulting in offset SBHs and lopsided cores. We review recent work on these mechanisms and discuss the observable consequences.

[Abridged] Recent numerical relativity simulations have shown that the emission of gravitational waves during the merger of two supermassive black holes (SMBHs) delivers a kick to the final hole, with a magnitude as large as 4000 km/s. We study the motion of SMBHs ejected from galaxy cores by such kicks and the effects on the stellar distribution using high-accuracy direct N-body simulations. Following the kick, the motion of the SMBH exhibits three distinct phases. (1) The SMBH oscillates with decreasing amplitude, losing energy via dynamical friction each time it passes through the core. Chandrasekhar's theory accurately reproduces the motion of the SMBH in this regime if 2 < ln Lambda < 3 and if the changing core density is taken into account. (2) When the amplitude of the motion has fallen to roughly the core radius, the SMBH and core begin to exhibit oscillations about their common center of mass. These oscillations decay with a time constant that is at least 10 times longer than would be predicted by naive application of the dynamical friction formula. (3) Eventually, the SMBH reaches thermal equilibrium with the stars. We estimate the time for the SMBH's oscillations to damp to the Brownian level in real galaxies and infer times as long as 1 Gyr in the brightest galaxies. Ejection of SMBHs also results in a lowered density of stars near the galaxy center; mass deficits as large as five times the SMBH mass are produced for kick velocities near the escape velocity. We compare the N-body density profiles with luminosity profiles of early-type galaxies in Virgo and show that even the largest observed cores can be reproduced by the kicks, without the need to postulate hypermassive binary SMBHs. Implications for displaced AGNs and helical radio structures are discussed.

Imran Nasim, Alessia Gualandris, Justin Read, Walter Dehnen, Maxime Delorme, Fabio Antonini (2020)Defeating stochasticity: coalescence timescales of massive black holes in galaxy mergers, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Oxford University Press

The coalescence of massive black hole binaries (BHBs) in galactic mergers is the primary source of gravitational waves (GWs) at low frequencies. Current estimates of GW detection rates for the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna and the Pulsar Timing Array vary by three orders of magnitude. To understand this variation, we simulate the merger of equal-mass, eccentric, galaxy pairs with central massive black holes and shallow inner density cusps. We model the formation and hardening of a central BHB using the Fast Multiple Method as a force solver, which features a O¹Nº scaling with the number N of particles and obtains results equivalent to direct-summation simulations. At N 5105, typical for contemporary studies, the eccentricity of the BHBs can vary significantly for different random realisations of the same initial condition, resulting in a substantial variation of the merger timescale. This scatter owes to the stochasticity of stellar encounters with the BHB and decreases with increasing N. We estimate that N 107 within the stellar half-light radius suffices to reduce the scatter in the merger timescale to 10%. Our results suggest that at least some of the uncertainty in low-frequency GW rates owes to insufficient numerical resolution.

Tuan Do, Gregory David Martinez, Wolfgang Kerzendorf, Anja Feldmeier-Krause, Manuel Arca Sedda, Nadine Neumayer, Alessia Gualandris (2020)Revealing the Formation of the Milky Way Nuclear Star Cluster via Chemo-Dynamical Modeling, In: Astrophysical Journal Letters American Astronomical Society

The Milky Way nuclear star cluster (MW NSC) has been used as a template to understand the origin and evolution of galactic nuclei and the interaction of nuclear star clusters with supermassive black holes. It is the only nuclear star cluster with a supermassive black hole where we can resolve individual stars to measure their kinematics and metal abundance to reconstruct its formation history. Here, we present results of the first chemo-dynamical model of the inner 1 pc of the MW NSC using metallicity and radial velocity data from the KMOS spectrograph on the Very Large Telescope. We found evidence for two kinematically and chemically distinct components in this region. The majority of the stars belong to a previously-known super-solar metallicity component with a rotation axis perpendicular to the Galactic plane. However, we identify a new kinematically distinct sub-solar metallicity component which contains about 7% of the stars and appears to be rotating faster than the main component with a rotation axis that may be misaligned. This second component may be evidence for an infalling star cluster or remnants of a dwarf galaxy, merging with the MW NSC. These measurements show that the combination of chemical abundances with kinematics is a promising method to directly study the MW NSC's origin and evolution.

Elisa Bortolas, Alessia Gualandris, Massimo Dotti, Justin I. Read (2018)The influence of Massive Black Hole Binaries on the Morphology of Merger Remnants, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society477(2)pp. 2310-2325 Oxford University Press (OUP)

Massive black hole (MBH) binaries, formed as a result of galaxy mergers, are expected to harden by dynamical friction and three-body stellar scatterings, until emission of gravitational waves (GWs) leads to their final coalescence. According to recent simulations, MBH binaries can efficiently harden via stellar encounters only when the host geometry is triaxial, even if only modestly, as angular momentum diffusion allows an efficient repopulation of the binary loss cone. In this paper, we carry out a suite of N-body simulations of equal-mass galaxy collisions, varying the initial orbits and density profiles for the merging galaxies and running simulations both with and without central MBHs. We find that the presence of an MBH binary in the remnant makes the system nearly oblate, aligned with the galaxy merger plane, within a radius enclosing 100 MBH masses. We never find binary hosts to be prolate on any scale. The decaying MBHs slightly enhance the tangential anisotropy in the centre of the remnant due to angular momentum injection and the slingshot ejection of stars on nearly radial orbits. This latter effect results in about 1% of the remnant stars being expelled from the galactic nucleus. Finally, we do not find any strong connection between the remnant morphology and the binary hardening rate, which depends only on the inner density slope of the remnant galaxy. Our results suggest that MBH binaries are able to coalesce within a few Gyr, even if the binary is found to partially erase the merger-induced triaxiality from the remnant.

A Gualandris, SP Zwart (2006)A hypervelocity star from the Large Magellanic Cloud, In: Mon.Not.Roy.Astron.Soc.Lett.376pp. L29-L33

We study the acceleration of the star HE0437-5439, to hypervelocity and discuss its possible origin in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). The star has a radial velocity of 723 km/s and is located at a distance of 61 kpc from the Sun. With a mass of about 8 Msun, the travel time from the Galactic centre is of about 100 Myr, much longer than its main sequence lifetime. Given the relatively small distance to the LMC (18 kpc), we consider it likely that HE0437-5439 originated in the cloud rather than in the Galactic centre, like the other hypervelocity stars. The minimum ejection velocity required to travel from the LMC to its current location within its lifetime is of about 500 km/s. Such a high velocity can only be obtained in a dynamical encounter with a massive black hole. We perform 3-body scattering simulations in which a stellar binary encounters a massive black hole and find that a black hole more massive than 1000 Msun is necessary to explain the high velocity of HE0437-5439. We look for possible parent clusters for HE0437-5439 and find that NGC 2100 and NGC 2004 are young enough to host stars coeval to HE0437-5439 and dense enough to produce an intermediate mass black hole able to eject an 8 Msun star with hypervelocity.

A Gualandris, SP Zwart, M Sipior (2005)Three-body encounters in the Galactic centre: the origin of the hypervelocity star SDSS J090745.0+024507, In: Mon.Not.Roy.Astron.Soc.363pp. 223-228

Hills (1988) predicted that runaway stars could be accelerated to velocities larger than 1000 km/s by dynamical encounters with the supermassive black hole (SMBH) in the Galactic center. The recently discovered hypervelocity star SDSS J090745.0+024507 (hereafter HVS) is escaping the Galaxy at high speed and could be the first object in this class. With the measured radial velocity and the estimated distance to the HVS, we trace back its trajectory in the Galactic potential. Assuming it was ejected from the center, we find that a $____sim$ 2 mas/yr proper motion is necessary for the star to have come within a few parsecs of the SMBH. We perform three-body scattering experiments to constrain the progenitor encounter which accelerated the HVS. As proposed by Yu & Tremaine (2003), we consider the tidal disruption of binary systems by the SMBH and the encounter between a star and a binary black hole, as well as an alternative scenario involving intermediate mass black holes. We find that the tidal disruption of a stellar binary ejects stars with a larger velocity compared to the encounter between a single star and a binary black hole, but has a somewhat smaller ejection rate due to the greater availability of single stars.

A Gualandris, SP Zwart, A Tirado-Ramos (2004)Performance analysis of direct N-body algorithms for astrophysical simulations on distributed systems, In: ParallelComput.33pp. 159-173

We discuss the performance of direct summation codes used in the simulation of astrophysical stellar systems on highly distributed architectures. These codes compute the gravitational interaction among stars in an exact way and have an O(N^2) scaling with the number of particles. They can be applied to a variety of astrophysical problems, like the evolution of star clusters, the dynamics of black holes, the formation of planetary systems, and cosmological simulations. The simulation of realistic star clusters with sufficiently high accuracy cannot be performed on a single workstation but may be possible on parallel computers or grids. We have implemented two parallel schemes for a direct N-body code and we study their performance on general purpose parallel computers and large computational grids. We present the results of timing analyzes conducted on the different architectures and compare them with the predictions from theoretical models. We conclude that the simulation of star clusters with up to a million particles will be possible on large distributed computers in the next decade. Simulating entire galaxies however will in addition require new hybrid methods to speedup the calculation.

We have investigated different scenarios for the origin of the binary millisecond pulsar PSR J1911-5958A in NGC 6752, the most distant pulsar discovered from the core of a globular cluster to date. The hypothesis that it results from a truly primordial binary born in the halo calls for accretion-induced collapse and negligible recoil speed at the moment of neutron star formation. Scattering or exchange interactions off cluster stars are not consistent with both the observed orbital period and its offset position. We show that a binary system of two black holes with (unequal) masses in the range of 3-100 solar masses can live in NGC 6752 until present time and can have propelled PSR J1911-5958A into an eccentric peripheral orbit during the last ~1 Gyr.

VV Gvaramadze, A Gualandris, SP Zwart (2007)Hyperfast pulsars as the remnants of massive stars ejected from young star clusters, In: Mon.Not.Roy.Astron.Soc.385pp. 929-938

Recent proper motion and parallax measurements for the pulsar PSR B1508+55 indicate a transverse velocity of ~1100 km/s, which exceeds earlier measurements for any neutron star. The spin-down characteristics of PSR B1508+55 are typical for a non-recycled pulsar, which implies that the velocity of the pulsar cannot have originated from the second supernova disruption of a massive binary system. The high velocity of PSR B1508+55 can be accounted for by assuming that it received a kick at birth or that the neutron star was accelerated after its formation in the supernova explosion. We propose an explanation for the origin of hyperfast neutron stars based on the hypothesis that they could be the remnants of a symmetric supernova explosion of a high-velocity massive star which attained its peculiar velocity (similar to that of the pulsar) in the course of a strong dynamical three- or four-body encounter in the core of dense young star cluster. To check this hypothesis we investigated three dynamical processes involving close encounters between: (i) two hard massive binaries, (ii) a hard binary and an intermediate-mass black hole, and (iii) a single star and a hard binary intermediate-mass black hole. We find that main-sequence O-type stars cannot be ejected from young massive star clusters with peculiar velocities high enough to explain the origin of hyperfast neutron stars, but lower mass main-sequence stars or the stripped helium cores of massive stars could be accelerated to hypervelocities. Our explanation for the origin of hyperfast pulsars requires a very dense stellar environment of the order of 10^6 -10^7 stars pc^{-3}. Although such high densities may exist during the core collapse of young massive star clusters, we caution that they have never been observed.

H Baumgardt, A Gualandris, SP Zwart (2006)Ejection of Hyper-Velocity Stars from the Galactic Centre by Intermediate-Mass Black Holes, In: Mon.Not.Roy.Astron.Soc.372pp. 174-182

We have performed N-body simulations of the formation of hyper-velocity stars (HVS) in the centre of the Milky Way due to inspiralling intermediate-mass black holes (IMBHs). We considered IMBHs of different masses, all starting from circular orbits at an initial distance of 0.1 pc. We find that the IMBHs sink to the centre of the Galaxy due to dynamical friction, where they deplete the central cusp of stars. Some of these stars become HVS and are ejected with velocities sufficiently high to escape the Galaxy. Since the HVS carry with them information about their origin, in particular in the moment of ejection, the velocity distribution and the direction in which they escape the Galaxy, detecting a population of HVS will provide insight in the ejection processes and could therefore provide indirect evidence for the existence of IMBHs. Our simulations show that HVS are generated in short bursts which last only a few Myrs until the IMBH is swallowed by the supermassive black hole (SMBH). HVS are ejected almost isotropically, which makes IMBH induced ejections hard to distinguish from ejections due to encounters of stellar binaries with a SMBH. After the HVS have reached the galactic halo, their escape velocities correlate with the distance from the Galactic centre in the sense that the fastest HVS can be found furthest away from the centre. The velocity distribution of HVS generated by inspiralling IMBHs is also nearly independent of the mass of the IMBH and can be quite distinct from one generated by binary encounters. Finally, our simulations show that the presence of an IMBH in the Galactic centre changes the stellar density distribution inside r

M Colpi, A Gualandris, A Possenti (2002)Is NGC6752 hiding a double black hole binary in its core ?

NGC6752 hosts in its halo PSR J1911-5958A, a newly discovered binary millisecond pulsar which is the most distant pulsar ever known from the core of a globular cluster. Interestingly, its recycling history seems in conflict with a scenario of ejection resulting from ordinary stellar dynamical encounters. A scattering event off a binary system of two black holes with masses in the range of 3-50 solar masses that propelled PSR J1911-5958A into its current peripheral orbit seems more likely. It is still an observational challenge to unveil the imprint(s) left from such a dark massive binary on cluster's stars: PSR J1911-5958A may be the first case.

VV Gvaramadze, A Gualandris (2010)Very massive runaway stars from three-body encounters, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters

Very massive stars preferentially reside in the cores of their parent clusters and form binary or multiple systems. We study the role of tight very massive binaries in the origin of the field population of very massive stars. We performed numerical simulations of dynamical encounters between single (massive) stars and a very massive binary with parameters similar to those of the most massive known Galactic binaries, WR 20a and NGC 3603-A1. We found that these three-body encounters could be responsible for the origin of high peculiar velocities ($____geq$ 70 km/s) observed for some very massive ($____geq$ 60-70 Msun) runaway stars in the Milky Way and the Large Magellanic Cloud (e.g., $____lambda$ Cep, BD+43 3654, Sk-67 22, BI 237, 30 Dor 016), which can hardly be explained within the framework of the binary-supernova scenario. The production of high-velocity massive stars via three-body encounters is accompanied by the recoil of the binary in the opposite direction to the ejected star. We show that the relative position of the very massive binary R145 and the runaway early B-type star Sk-69 206 on the sky is consistent with the possibility that both objects were ejected from the central cluster, R136, of the star-forming region 30 Doradus via the same dynamical event -- a three-body encounter.

A Gualandris, D Merritt (2009)Perturbations of Intermediate-mass Black Holes on Stellar Orbits in the Galactic Center, In: Astrophys.J.705pp. 361-371

We study the short- and long-term effects of an intermediate mass black hole (IMBH) on the orbits of stars bound to the supermassive black hole (SMBH) at the center of the Milky Way. A regularized N-body code including post-Newtonian terms is used to carry out direct integrations of 19 stars in the S-star cluster for 10 Myr. The mass of the IMBH is assigned one of four values from 400 Msun to 4000 Msun, and its initial semi-major axis with respect to the SMBH is varied from 0.3-30 mpc, bracketing the radii at which inspiral of the IMBH is expected to stall. We consider two values for the eccentricity of the IMBH/SMBH binary, e=(0,0.7), and 12 values for the orientation of the binary's plane. Changes at the level of 1% in the orbital elements of the S-stars could occur in just a few years if the IMBH is sufficiently massive. On time scales of 1 Myr or longer, the IMBH efficiently randomizes the eccentricities and orbital inclinations of the S-stars. Kozai oscillations are observed when the IMBH lies well outside the orbits of the stars. Perturbations from the IMBH can eject stars from the cluster, producing hypervelocity stars, and can also scatter stars into the SMBH; stars with high initial eccentricities are most likely to be affected in both cases. The distribution of S-star orbital elements is significantly altered from its currently-observed form by IMBHs with masses greater than 1000 Msun if the IMBH/SMBH semi-major axis lies in the range 3-10 mpc. We use these results to further constrain the allowed parameters of an IMBH/SMBH binary at the Galactic center.

HB Perets, A Gualandris, G Kupi, D Merritt, T Alexander (2009)Dynamical evolution of the young stars in the Galactic center: N-body simulations of the S-stars, In: Astrophys.J.702:884-889,2009

We use N-body simulations to study the evolution of the orbital eccentricities of stars deposited near (

K Rycerz, A Tirado-Ramos, A Gualandris, SP Zwart, M Bubak, PMA Sloot (2007)Regular Paper: Interactive N-Body Simulations On the Grid: HLA Versus MPI., In: IJHPCA212pp. 210-221
SP Zwart, S McMillan, D Groen, A Gualandris, M Sipior, W Vermin (2007)A parallel gravitational N-body kernel

We describe source code level parallelization for the {____tt kira} direct gravitational $N$-body integrator, the workhorse of the {____tt starlab} production environment for simulating dense stellar systems. The parallelization strategy, called ``j-parallelization'', involves the partition of the computational domain by distributing all particles in the system among the available processors. Partial forces on the particles to be advanced are calculated in parallel by their parent processors, and are then summed in a final global operation. Once total forces are obtained, the computing elements proceed to the computation of their particle trajectories. We report the results of timing measurements on four different parallel computers, and compare them with theoretical predictions. The computers employ either a high-speed interconnect, a NUMA architecture to minimize the communication overhead or are distributed in a grid. The code scales well in the domain tested, which ranges from 1024 - 65536 stars on 1 - 128 processors, providing satisfactory speedup. Running the production environment on a grid becomes inefficient for more than 60 processors distributed across three sites.

T Kouwenhoven, A Brown, H Zinnecker, L Kaper, SP Zwart, A Gualandris (2003)A search for close companions in Sco OB2

Using adaptive optics we study the binary population in the nearby OB association Scorpius OB2. We present the first results of our near-infrared adaptive optics survey among 199 (mainly) A- and B-type stars in Sco OB2. In total 151 components other than the target stars are found, out of which 77 are probably background stars. Our findings are compared with data collected from literature. Out of the remaining 74 candidate physical companions 42 are new, demonstrating that many stars A/B stars have faint, close companions.

A Gualandris, M Colpi, A Possenti (2002)Unveiling black holes ejected from globular clusters

Was the black hole in XTE J1118+480 ejected from a globular cluster or kicked away from the galactic disk?

A Gualandris, SP Zwart, PP Eggleton (2004)N-body simulations of stars escaping from the Orion nebula, In: Mon.Not.Roy.Astron.Soc.350pp. 615-?

We study the dynamical interaction in which the two single runaway stars AE Aurigae and mu Columbae and the binary iota Orionis acquired their unusually high space velocity. The two single runaways move in almost opposite directions with a velocity greater than 100 km/s away from the Trapezium cluster. The star iota Ori is an eccentric (e=0.8) binary moving with a velocity of about 10 km/s at almost right angles with respect to the two single stars. The kinematic properties of the system suggest that a strong dynamical encounter occurred in the Trapezium cluster about 2.5 Myr ago. Curiously enough, the two binary components have similar spectral type but very different masses, indicating that their ages must be quite different. This observation leads to the hypothesis that an exchange interaction occurred in which an older star was swapped into the original iota Orionis binary. We test this hypothesis by a combination of numerical and theoretical techniques, using N-body simulations to constrain the dynamical encounter, binary evolution calculations to constrain the high orbital eccentricity of iota Orionis and stellar evolution calculations to constrain the age discrepancy of the two binary components. We find that an encounter between two low eccentricity (0.4

HB Perets, A Gualandris, D Merritt, T Alexander (2008)Dynamical evolution of the young stars in the Galactic center

Recent observations of the Galactic center revealed a nuclear disk of young OB stars near the massive black hole (MBH), in addition to many similar outlying stars with higher eccentricities and/or high inclinations relative to the disk (some of them possibly belonging to a second disk). In addition, observations show the existence of young B stars (the 'S-cluster') in an isotropic distribution in the close vicinity of the MBH ($

MBN Kouwenhoven, AGA Brown, A Gualandris, L Kaper, SFP Zwart, H Zinnecker (2003)The Primordial Binary Population in OB Associations

For understanding the process of star formation it is essential to know how many stars are formed as singles or in multiple systems, as a function of environment and binary parameters. This requires a characterization of the primordial binary population, which we define as the population of binaries that is present just after star formation has ceased, but before dynamical and stellar evolution have significantly altered its characteristics. In this article we present the first results of our adaptive optics survey of 200 (mainly) A-type stars in the nearby OB association Sco OB2. We report the discovery of 47 new candidate companions of Sco OB2 members. The next step will be to combine these observations with detailed simulations of young star clusters, in order to find the primordial binary population.

A Gualandris, M Colpi, SP Zwart, A Possenti (2004)Has the black hole in XTE J1118+480 experienced an asymmetric natal kick?, In: Astrophys.J.618pp. 845-851

We explore the origin of the Galactic high latitude black hole X-ray binary XTE J1118+480, and in particular its birth location and the magnitude of the kick received by the black hole upon formation in the supernova explosion. We constrain the age of the companion to the black hole using stellar evolution calculations between 2 Gyr and 5 Gyr, making an origin in a globular cluster unlikely. We therefore argue that the system was born in the Galactic disk and the supernova propelled it in its current high latitude orbit. Given the current estimates on its distance, proper motion and radial velocity, we back-trace the orbit of XTE J1118+480 in the Galactic potential to infer the peculiar velocity of the system at different disk crossings over the last 5 Gyr. Taking into account the uncertainties on the velocity components, we infer an average peculiar velocity of 183 ____pm 31 km/s. The maximum velocity which the binary can acquire by symmetric supernova mass loss is about 100 km/s, which is 2.7 sigma away from the mean of the peculiar velocity distribution. We therefore argue that an additional asymmetric kick velocity is required. By considering the orientation of the system relative to the plane of the sky, we derive a 95% probability for a non null component of the kick perpendicular to the orbital plane of the binary. The distribution of perpendicular velocities is skewed to lower velocities with an average of 93^{+55}_{-60} km/s.

S Harfst, A Gualandris, D Merritt, R Spurzem, SP Zwart, P Berczik (2006)Performance Analysis of Direct N-Body Algorithms on Special-Purpose Supercomputers, In: NewAstron.12pp. 357-377

Direct-summation N-body algorithms compute the gravitational interaction between stars in an exact way and have a computational complexity of O(N^2). Performance can be greatly enhanced via the use of special-purpose accelerator boards like the GRAPE-6A. However the memory of the GRAPE boards is limited. Here, we present a performance analysis of direct N-body codes on two parallel supercomputers that incorporate special-purpose boards, allowing as many as four million particles to be integrated. Both computers employ high-speed, Infiniband interconnects to minimize communication overhead, which can otherwise become significant due to the small number of "active" particles at each time step. We find that the computation time scales well with processor number; for 2*10^6 particles, efficiencies greater than 50% and speeds in excess of 2 TFlops are reached.

Imran Tariq Nasim, Alessia Gualandris, Justin I Read, Fabio Antonini, Walter Dehnen, Maxime Delorme (2021)Formation of the largest galactic cores through binary scouring and gravitational wave recoil, In: Monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical Society502(4)pp. 4794-4814

Massive elliptical galaxies are typically observed to have central cores in their projected radial light profiles. Such cores have long been thought to form through ‘binary scouring’ as supermassive black holes (SMBHs), brought in through mergers, form a hard binary and eject stars from the galactic centre. However, the most massive cores, like the $\sim 3{\, \mathrm{kpc}}$ core in A2261-BCG, remain challenging to explain in this way. In this paper, we run a suite of dry galaxy merger simulations to explore three different scenarios for central core formation in massive elliptical galaxies: ‘binary scouring’, ‘tidal deposition’, and ‘gravitational wave (GW) induced recoil’. Using the griffin code, we self-consistently model the stars, dark matter, and SMBHs in our merging galaxies, following the SMBH dynamics through to the formation of a hard binary. We find that we can only explain the large surface brightness core of A2261-BCG with a combination of a major merger that produces a small $\sim 1{\, \mathrm{kpc}}$ core through binary scouring, followed by the subsequent GW recoil of its SMBH that acts to grow the core size. Key predictions of this scenario are an offset SMBH surrounded by a compact cluster of bound stars and a non-divergent central density profile. We show that the bright ‘knots’ observed in the core region of A2261-BCG are best explained as stalled perturbers resulting from minor mergers, though the brightest may also represent ejected SMBHs surrounded by a stellar cloak of bound stars.

R Spurzem, I Berentzen, P Berczik, D Merritt, P Amaro-Seoane, S Harfst, A Gualandris (2008)Parallelization, special hardware and post-newtonian dynamics in direct N-Body simulations, In: Lecture Notes in Physics760pp. 377-389
A Gualandris, S Harfst, D Merritt, S Mikkola (2008)Evolution of stellar orbits in the Galactic centre, In: Astronomische Nachrichten329(9-10)pp. 1008-1011

We describe a novel N-body code designed for simulations of the central regions of galaxies containing massive black holes. The code incorporates Mikkola's "algorithmic" chain regularization scheme including post-Newtonian terms up to PN2.5 order. Stars moving beyond the chain are advanced using a fourth-order integrator with forces computed on a GRAPE board. Performance tests confirm that the hybrid code achieves better energy conservation, in less elapsed time, than the standard scheme and that it reproduces the orbits of stars tightly bound to the black hole with high precision. The hybrid code is applied to two sample problems: the effect of finite-N gravitational fluctuations on the orbits of the S-stars; and inspiral of an intermediate-mass black hole into the galactic centre. © 2008 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA.

A Gualandris, JI Read, W Dehnen, E Bortolas (2017)Collisionless loss-cone refilling: there is no final parsec problem, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society464(2)pp. 2301-2310

Coalescing massive black hole binaries, formed during galaxy mergers, are expected to be a primary source of low-frequency gravitational waves. Yet in isolated gas-free spherical stellar systems, the hardening of the binary stalls at parsec-scale separations owing to the inefficiency of relaxation-driven loss-cone refilling. Repopulation via collisionless orbit diffusion in triaxial systems is more efficient, but published simulation results are contradictory. While sustained hardening has been reported in simulations of galaxy mergers with N ∼ 106 stars and in early simulations of rotating models, in isolated non-rotating triaxial models the hardening rate continues to fall with increasing N, a signature of spurious two-body relaxation. We present a novel approach for studying loss-cone repopulation in galactic nuclei. Since loss-cone repopulation in triaxial systems owes to orbit diffusion, it is a purely collisionless phenomenon and can be studied with an approximated force calculation technique, provided the force errors are well behaved and sufficiently small. We achieve this using an accurate fast multipole method and define a proxy for the hardening rate that depends only on stellar angular momenta. We find that the loss cone is efficiently replenished even in very mildly triaxial models (with axis ratios 1:0.9:0.8). Such triaxiality is unavoidable following galactic mergers and can drive binaries into the gravitational wave regime. We conclude that there is no ‘final parsec problem’.

The centre of our Galaxy is one of the most studied and yet enigmatic places in the Universe. At a distance of about 8 kpc from our Sun, the Galactic centre (GC) is the ideal environment to study the extreme processes that take place in the vicinity of a supermassive black hole (SMBH). Despite the hostile environment, several tens of early-type stars populate the central parsec of our Galaxy. A fraction of them lie in a thin ring with mild eccentricity and inner radius ~0.04 pc, while the S-stars, i.e. the ~30 stars closest to the SMBH (

Miklos Peuten, A Zocchi, Mark Gieles, Alessia Gualandris, V Henault-Brunet (2016)A stellar-mass black hole population in the globular cluster NGC 6101?, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society462(3)pp. 2333-2342 Oxford University Press

Dalessandro et al. observed a similar distribution for blue straggler stars and main-sequence turn-off stars in the Galactic globular cluster NGC 6101, and interpreted this feature as an indication that this cluster is not mass-segregated. Using direct N-body simulations, we find that a significant amount of mass segregation is expected for a cluster with the mass, radius and age of NGC 6101. Therefore, the absence of mass segregation cannot be explained by the argument that the cluster is not yet dynamically evolved. By varying the retention fraction of stellar-mass black holes, we show that segregation is not observable in clusters with a high black hole retention fraction (>50 per cent after supernova kicks and >50 per cent after dynamical evolution). Yet all model clusters have the same amount of mass segregation in terms of the decline of the mean mass of stars and remnants with distance to the centre. We also discuss how kinematics can be used to further constrain the presence of a stellar-mass black hole population and distinguish it from the effect of an intermediate-mass black hole. Our results imply that the kick velocities of black holes are lower than those of neutron stars. The large retention fraction during its dynamical evolution can be explained if NGC 6101 formed with a large initial radius in a Milky Way satellite.

Manuel Arca-Sedda, Alessia Gualandris (2018)Gravitational wave sources from inspiralling globular clusters in the Galactic Centre and similar environments, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society477(4)pp. 4423-4442 Oxford University Press (OUP)

We model the inspiral of globular clusters (GCs) towards a galactic nucleus harboring a supermassive black hole (SMBH), a leading scenario for the formation of nuclear star clusters.We consider the case of GCs containing either an intermediate-mass black hole (IMBH) or a population of stellar mass black holes (BHs), and study the formation of gravitational wave (GW) sources. We perform direct summation N-body simulations of the infall of GCs with different orbital eccentricities in the live background of a galaxy with either a shallow or steep density profile. We find that the GC acts as an efficient carrier for the IMBH, facilitating the formation of a bound pair. The hardening and evolution of the binary depends sensitively on the galaxy’s density profile. If the host galaxy has a shallow profile the hardening is too slow to allow for coalescence within a Hubble time, unless the initial cluster orbit is highly eccentric. If the galaxy hosts a nuclear star cluster, the hardening leads to coalescence by emission of GWs within 3−4 Gyr. In this case, we find a IMBH-SMBH merger rate of IIMBH−SMBH = 2.8×10−3 yr−1 Gpc−3. If the GC hosts a population of stellar BHs, these are deposited close enough to the SMBH to form extreme-mass-ratio-inspirals with a merger rate of IEMRI = 0.25 yr−1 Gpc−3. Finally, the SMBH tidal field can boost the coalescence of stellar black hole binaries delivered from the infalling GCs. The merger rate for this merging channel is IBHB = 0.4 − 4 yr−1 Gpc−3.

JA Petts, A Gualandris, JI Read (2015)A semi-analytic dynamical friction model that reproduces core stalling, In: MONTHLY NOTICES OF THE ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY454(4)pp. 3778-3791 OXFORD UNIV PRESS
Fabio Antonini, Mark Gieles, Alessia Gualandris (2019)Black hole growth through hierarchical black hole mergers in dense star clusters: implications for gravitational wave detections, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society486(4)pp. 5008-5021 Oxford University Press (OUP)

In a star cluster with a sufficiently large escape velocity, black holes (BHs) that are produced by BH mergers can be retained, dynamically form new BH binaries, and merge again. This process can repeat several times and lead to significant mass growth. In this paper, we calculate the mass of the largest BH that can form through repeated BH mergers and determine how its value depends on the physical properties of the host cluster. We adopt an analytical model in which the energy generated by the black hole binaries in the cluster core is assumed to be regulated by the process of two-body relaxation in the bulk of the system. This principle is used to compute the hardening rate of the binaries and to relate this to the time-dependent global properties of the parent cluster. We demonstrate that in clusters with initial escape velocity ≳300kms−1 in the core and density ≳105M⊙⁠pc−3⁠, repeated mergers lead to the formation of BHs in the mass range 100−105M⊙⁠, populating any upper mass gap created by pair-instability supernovae. This result is independent of cluster metallicity and the initial BH spin distribution. We show that about 10 per cent of the present-day nuclear star clusters meet these extreme conditions, and estimate that BH binary mergers with total mass ≳100M⊙⁠ should be produced in these systems at a maximum rate ≈0.05Gpc−3yr−1⁠, corresponding to one detectable event every few years with Advanced LIGO/Virgo at design sensitivity.

James Petts, Justin Read, Alessia Gualandris (2016)A semi-analytic dynamical friction model for cored galaxies, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society463(1)pp. 858-869 Oxford University Press

We present a dynamical friction model based on Chandrasekhar’s formula that reproduces the fast inspiral and stalling experienced by satellites orbiting galaxies with a large constant density core. We show that the fast inspiral phase does not owe to resonance. Rather, it owes to the background velocity distribution function for the constant density core being dissimilar from the usually-assumed Maxwellian distribution. Using the correct background velocity distribution function and the semi-analytic model from Petts, Gualandris & Read (2015), we are able to correctly reproduce the infall rate in both cored and cusped potentials. However, in the case of large cores, our model is no longer able to correctly capture core-stalling. We show that this stalling owes to the tidal radius of the satellite approaching the size of the core. By switching off dynamical friction when rt(r) = r (where rt is the tidal radius at the satellite’s position) we arrive at a model which reproduces the N-body results remarkably well. Since the tidal radius can be very large for constant density background distributions, our model recovers the result that stalling can occur for Ms/Menc 1, where Ms and Menc are the mass of the satellite and the enclosed galaxy mass, respectively. Finally, we include the contribution to dynamical friction that comes from stars moving faster than the satellite. This next-to-leading order effect becomes the dominant driver of inspiral near the core region, prior to stalling.

E Bortolas, Alessia Gualandris, M Dotti, M Spera, M Mapelli (2016)Brownian motion of massive black hole binaries and the final parsec problem, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society461(1)pp. 1023-1031 Oxford University Press

Massive black hole binaries (BHBs) are expected to be one of the most powerful sources of gravitational waves in the frequency range of the pulsar timing array and of forthcoming space-borne detectors. They are believed to form in the final stages of galaxy mergers, and then harden by slingshot ejections of passing stars. However, evolution via the slingshot mechanism may be ineffective if the reservoir of interacting stars is not readily replenished, and the binary shrinking may come to a halt at roughly a parsec separation. Recent simulations suggest that the departure from spherical symmetry, naturally produced in merger remnants, leads to efficient loss cone refilling, preventing the binary from stalling. However, current N-body simulations able to accurately follow the evolution of BHBs are limited to very modest particle numbers. Brownian motion may artificially enhance the loss cone refilling rate in low-N simulations, where the binary encounters a larger population of stars due its random motion. Here we study the significance of Brownian motion of BHBs in merger remnants in the context of the final parsec problem. We simulate mergers with various particle numbers (from 8k to 1M) and with several density profiles. Moreover, we compare simulations where the BHB is fixed at the centre of the merger remnant with simulations where the BHB is free to random walk. We find that Brownian motion does not significantly affect the evolution of BHBs in simulations with particle numbers in excess of one million, and that the hardening measured in merger simulations is due to collisionless loss cone refilling.

James Petts, Alessia Gualandris (2017)Infalling Young Clusters in the Galactic Centre: implications for IMBHs and young stellar populations, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society467(4)pp. 3775-3787 Oxford University Press

The central parsec of the Milky Way hosts two puzzlingly young stellar populations, a tight isotropic distribution of B stars around SgrA* (the S-stars) and a disk of OB stars extending to 0.5 pc. Using a modified version of Sverre Aarseth’s direct summation code NBODY6 we explore the scenario in which a young star cluster migrates to the Galactic Centre within the lifetime of the OB disk population via dynamical friction. We find that star clusters massive and dense enough to reach the central parsec form a very massive star via physical collisions on a mass segregation timescale. We follow the evolution of the merger product using the most up to date, yet conservative, mass loss recipes for very massive stars. Over a large range of initial conditions, we find that the very massive star expels most of its mass via a strong stellar wind, eventually collapsing to form a black hole of mass 20−400M , incapable of bringing massive stars to the Galactic Centre. No massive intermediate mass black hole can form in this scenario. The presence of a star cluster in the central 10 pc within the last 15 Myr would also leave a 2 pc ring of massive stars, which is not currently observed. Thus, we conclude that the star cluster migration model is highly unlikely to be the origin of either young population, and in-situ formation models or binary disruptions are favoured.

Denis Erkal, Douglas Boubert, Alessia Gualandris, N. Wyn Evans, Fabio Antonini (2018)A hypervelocity star with a Magellanic origin, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Oxford University Press (OUP)

Using proper motion measurements from Gaia DR2, we probe the origin of 26 previously known hypervelocity stars (HVSs) around the Milky Way. We find that a significant fraction of these stars have a high probability of originating close to the Milky Way centre, but there is one obvious outlier. HVS3 is highly likely to be coming almost from the centre of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). During its closest approach, 21.1 +6.1 −4.6 Myr ago, it had a relative velocity of 870 +69 −66 kms −1 with respect to the LMC. This large kick velocity is only consistent with the Hills mechanism, requiring a massive black hole at the centre of the LMC. This provides strong direct evidence that the LMC itself harbours a massive black hole of at least 4×10 3 −10 4 M ⊙ .

Manuel Arca Sedda, Alessia Gualandris, Tuan Do, Anja Feldmeier-Krause, Nadine Neumayer, Denis Erkal (2020)On the origin of a rotating metal-poor stellar population in the Milky Way Nuclear Cluster, In: Astrophysical Journal Letters IOP Publishing

We explore the origin of a population of stars recently detected in the inner parsec of the Milky Way Nuclear Cluster (NC), which exhibit sub-solar metallicity and a higher rotation compared to the dominant population. Using state-of-the-art N-body simulations, we model the infall of massive stellar systems into the Galactic center, both of Galactic and extra-galactic origin. We show that the newly discovered population can either be the remnant of a massive star cluster formed a few kpc away from the Galactic center (Galactic scenario) or be accreted from a dwarf galaxy originally located at 10-100 kpc (extragalactic scenario) and that reached the Galactic center 3

D. Boubert, D. Erkal, A. Gualandris (2020)Deflection of the hypervelocity stars by the pull of the Large Magellanic Cloud on the Milky Way, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Oxford University Press

Stars slingshotted by the supermassive black hole at the Galactic centre escape from the Milky Way so quickly that their trajectories are almost straight lines. Previous works have shown how these `hypervelocity stars' (stars moving faster than the local Galactic escape speed) are subsequently de ected by the gravitational field of the Milky Way and the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), but have neglected to account for the reflex motion of the Milky Way in response to the y-by of the LMC. A consequence of this motion is that the hypervelocity stars we see in the outskirts of the Milky Way today were ejected from where the Milky Way centre was hundreds of millions of years ago. This change in perspective causes large apparent de ections of several degrees in the trajectories of the hypervelocity stars. We quantify these deflections by simulating the ejection of hypervelocity stars from an isolated Milky Way (with a spherical or flattened dark matter halo), from a fixed-in-place Milky Way with a passing LMC, and from a Milky Way which responds to the passage of the LMC, finding that LMC passage causes larger de ections than can be caused by a attened Galactic dark matter halo in CDM. The 10 as yr

Giacomo Fragione, Alessia Gualandris (2018)Tidal breakup of triple stars in the Galactic Centre, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society475(4)pp. 4986-4993 Oxford University Press

The last decade has seen the detection of fast moving stars in the Galactic halo, the so-called hypervelocity stars (HVSs). While the bulk of this population is likely the result of a close encounter between a stellar binary and the supermassive black hole (MBH) in the Galactic Centre (GC), other mechanims may contribute fast stars to the sample. Few observed HVSs show apparent ages which are shorter than the flight time from the GC, thereby making the binary disruption scenario unlikely. These stars may be the result of the breakup of a stellar triple in the GC which led to the ejection of a hypervelocity binary (HVB). If such binary evolves into a blue straggler star due to internal processes after ejection, a rejuvenation is possible that make the star appear younger once detected in the halo. A triple disruption may also be responsible for the presence of HVBs, of which one candidate has now been observed. We present a numerical study of triple disruptions by the MBH in the GC and find that the most likely outcomes are the production of single HVSs and single/binary stars bound to the MBH, while the production of HVBs has a probability ≲1% regardless of the initial parameters. Assuming a triple fraction of ≈10% results in an ejection rate of ≲1 Gyr−1, insufficient to explain the sample of HVSs with lifetimes shorter than their flight time. We conclude that alternative mechanisms are responsible for the origin of such objects and HVBs in general.

Mark Gieles, C Charbonnel, M Krause, V Hénault-Brunet, Oscar Agertz, H Lamers, N Bastian, Alessia Gualandris, A Zocchi, James Petts (2018)Concurrent formation of supermassive stars and globular clusters: implications for early self-enrichment, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society478(2)sty1059pp. 2461-2479 Oxford University Press

We present a model for the concurrent formation of globular clusters (GCs) and supermassive stars (SMSs, >103M⊙) to address the origin of the HeCNONaMgAl abundance anomalies in GCs. GCs form in converging gas flows and accumulate low-angular momentum gas, which accretes onto protostars. This leads to an adiabatic contraction of the cluster and an increase of the stellar collision rate. A SMS can form via runaway collisions if the cluster reaches sufficiently high density before two-body relaxation halts the contraction. This condition is met if the number of stars ≳106 and the gas accretion rate ≳105M⊙/Myr, reminiscent of GC formation in high gas-density environments, such as -- but not restricted to -- the early Universe. The strong SMS wind mixes with the inflowing pristine gas, such that the protostars accrete diluted hot-hydrogen burning yields of the SMS. Because of continuous rejuvenation, the amount of processed material liberated by the SMS can be an order of magnitude higher than its maximum mass. This `conveyor-belt' production of hot-hydrogen burning products provides a solution to the mass budget problem that plagues other scenarios. Additionally, the liberated material is mildly enriched in helium and relatively rich in other hot-hydrogen burning products, in agreement with abundances of GCs today. Finally, we find a super-linear scaling between the amount of processed material and cluster mass, providing an explanation for the observed increase of the fraction of processed material with GC mass. We discuss open questions of this new GC enrichment scenario and propose observational tests.

D Merritt, A Gualandris, S Mikkola (2008)Explaining the Orbits of the Galactic Center S-Stars, In: Astrophysical Journal Letters, 693, L35 (2009)

The young stars near the supermassive black hole at the galactic center follow orbits that are nearly random in orientation and that have an approximately thermal distribution of eccentricities, N(e) ~ e. We show that both of these properties are a natural consequence of a few million years' interaction with an intermediate-mass black hole (IBH), if the latter's orbit is mildly eccentric and if its mass exceeds approximately 1500 solar masses. Producing the most tightly-bound S-stars requires an IBH orbit with periastron distance less than about 10 mpc. Our results provide support for a model in which the young stars are carried to the galactic center while bound to an IBH, and are consistent with the hypothesis that an IBH may still be orbiting within the nuclear star cluster.

S Harfst, A Gualandris, D Merritt, S Mikkola (2008)A Hybrid N-Body Code Incorporating Algorithmic Regularization and Post-Newtonian Forces, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

We describe a novel N-body code designed for simulations of the central regions of galaxies containing massive black holes. The code incorporates Mikkola's 'algorithmic' chain regularization scheme including post-Newtonian terms up to PN2.5 order. Stars moving beyond the chain are advanced using a fourth-order integrator with forces computed on a GRAPE board. Performance tests confirm that the hybrid code achieves better energy conservation, in less elapsed time, than the standard scheme and that it reproduces the orbits of stars tightly bound to the black hole with high precision. The hybrid code is applied to two sample problems: the effect of finite-N gravitational fluctuations on the orbits of the S-stars; and inspiral of an intermediate-mass black hole into the galactic center.

HB Perets, A Gualandris (2010)Dynamical constraints on the origin of the young B-stars in the Galactic center, In: Astrophysical Journal Letters

Regular star formation is thought to be inhibited close to the massive black hole (MBH) in the Galactic center. Nevertheless, tens of young main sequence B stars have been observed in an isotropic distribution close to it. Various models have been suggested for the formation of the B-stars closest to the MBH (

Giacomo Fragione, Alessia Gualandris (2019)Hypervelocity stars from star clusters hosting Intermediate-Mass Black Holes, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Hypervelocity stars (HVSs) represent a unique population of stars in the Galaxy reflecting properties of the whole Galactic potential. Determining their origin is of fundamental importance to constrain the shape and mass of the dark halo. The leading scenario for the ejection of HVSs is an encounter with the supermassive black hole in the Galactic Centre. However, new proper motions from the Gaia mission indicate that only the fastest HVSs can be traced back to the Galactic centre and the remaining stars originate in the disc or halo. In this paper, we study HVSs generated by encounters of stellar binaries with an intermediate-mass black hole (IMBH) in the core of a star cluster. For the first time, we model the effect of the cluster orbit in the Galactic potential on the observable properties of the ejected population. HVSs generated by this mechanism do not travel on radial orbits consistent with a Galactic centre origin, but rather point back to their parent cluster, thus providing observational evidence for the presence of an IMBH. We also model the ejection of high-velocity stars from the Galactic population of globular clusters, assuming that they all contain an IMBH, including the effects of the cluster’s orbit and propagation of the star in the Galactic potential up to detection. We find that high-velocity stars ejected by IMBHs have distinctive distributions in velocity, Galactocentric distance and Galactic latitude, which can be used to distinguish them from runaway stars and stars ejected from the Galactic Centre.

F Antonini, J Faber, A Gualandris, D Merritt (2009)Tidal break-up of binary stars at the Galactic center and its consequences, In: Astrophysical Journal Letters

The tidal breakup of binary star systems by the supermassive black hole (SMBH) in the center of the galaxy has been suggested as the source of both the observed sample of hypervelocity stars (HVSs) in the halo of the Galaxy and the S-stars that remain in tight orbits around Sgr A*. Here, we use a post-Newtonian N-body code to study the dynamics of main-sequence binaries on highly elliptical bound orbits whose periapses lie close to the SMBH, determining the properties of ejected and bound stars as well as collision products. Unlike previous studies, we follow binaries that remain bound for several revolutions around the SMBH, finding that in the case of relatively large periapses and highly inclined binaries the Kozai resonance can lead to large periodic oscillations in the internal binary eccentricity and inclination. Collisions and mergers of the binary elements are found to increase significantly for multiple orbits around the SMBH, while HVSs are primarily produced during a binary's first passage. This process can lead to stellar coalescence and eventually serve as an important source of young stars at the galactic center.

VV Gvaramadze, A Gualandris, SP Zwart (2009)High-velocity runaway stars from three-body encounters, In: IAU Symp.266pp. 413-416

We performed numerical simulations of dynamical encounters between hard massive binaries and a very massive star (VMS; formed through runaway mergers of ordinary stars in the dense core of a young massive star cluster), in order to explore the hypothesis that this dynamical process could be responsible for the origin of high-velocity (____geq 200-400 km/s) early or late B-type stars. We estimated the typical velocities produced in encounters between very tight massive binaries and VMSs (of mass of ____geq 200 Msun) and found that about 3-4 per cent of all encounters produce velocities of ____geq 400 km/s, while in about 2 per cent of encounters the escapers attain velocities exceeding the Milky Ways's escape velocity. We therefore argue that the origin of high-velocity (____geq 200-400 km/s) runaway stars and at least some so-called hypervelocity stars could be associated with dynamical encounters between the tightest massive binaries and VMSs formed in the cores of star clusters. We also simulated dynamical encounters between tight massive binaries and single ordinary 50-100 Msun stars. We found that from 1 to ____simeq 4 per cent of these encounters can produce runaway stars with velocities of ____geq 300-400 km/s (typical of the bound population of high-velocity halo B-type stars) and occasionally (in less than 1 per cent of encounters) produce hypervelocity (____geq 700 km/s) late B-type escapers.

A Gualandris, S Gillessen, D Merritt (2010)The Galactic Centre star S2 as a dynamical probe for intermediate-mass black holes, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

We study the short-term effects of an intermediate mass black hole (IBH) on the orbit of star S2 (S02), the shortest-period star known to orbit the supermassive black hole (MBH) in the centre of the Milky Way. Near-infrared imaging and spectroscopic observations allow an accurate determination of the orbit of the star. Given S2's short orbital period and large eccentricity, general relativity (GR) needs to be taken into account, and its effects are potentially measurable with current technology. We show that perturbations due to an IBH in orbit around the MBH can produce a shift in the apoapsis of S2 that is as large or even larger than the GR shift. An IBH will also induce changes in the plane of S2's orbit at a level as large as one degree per period. We apply observational orbital fitting techniques to simulations of the S-cluster in the presence of an IBH and find that an IBH more massive than about 1000 solar masses at the distance of the S-stars will be detectable at the next periapse passage of S2, which will occur in 2018.

We study the circumstances under which first collisions occur in young and dense star clusters. The initial conditions for our direct $N$-body simulations are chosen such that the clusters experience core collapse within a few million years, before the most massive stars have left the main-sequence. It turns out that the first collision is typically driven by the most massive stars in the cluster. Upon arrival in the cluster core, by dynamical friction, massive stars tend to form binaries. The enhanced cross section of the binary compared to a single star causes other stars to engage the binary. A collision between one of the binary components and the incoming third star is then mediated by the encounters between the binary and other cluster members. Due to the geometry of the binary-single star engagement the relative velocity at the moment of impact is substantially different than in a two-body encounter. This may have profound consequences for the further evolution of the collision product.

VV Gvaramadze, A Gualandris, SP Zwart (2007)On the origin of hyperfast neutron stars, In: IAU Symp.246pp. 365-366

We propose an explanation for the origin of hyperfast neutron stars (e.g. PSR B1508+55, PSR B2224+65, RX J0822-4300) based on the hypothesis that they could be the remnants of a symmetric supernova explosion of a high-velocity massive star (or its helium core) which attained its peculiar velocity (similar to that of the neutron star) in the course of a strong three- or four-body dynamical encounter in the core of a young massive star cluster. This hypothesis implies that the dense cores of star clusters (located either in the Galactic disk or near the Galactic centre) could also produce the so-called hypervelocity stars -- the ordinary stars moving with a speed of ~1000 km/s.

VV Gvaramadze, A Gualandris, SP Zwart (2009)On the origin of high-velocity runaway stars, In: MNRAS, 2009, 396, 570-578

We explore the hypothesis that some high-velocity runaway stars attain their peculiar velocities in the course of exchange encounters between hard massive binaries and a very massive star (either an ordinary 50-100 Msun star or a more massive one, formed through runaway mergers of ordinary stars in the core of a young massive star cluster). In this process, one of the binary components becomes gravitationally bound to the very massive star, while the second one is ejected, sometimes with a high speed. We performed three-body scattering experiments and found that early B-type stars (the progenitors of the majority of neutron stars) can be ejected with velocities of $____ga$ 200-400 km/s (typical of pulsars), while 3-4 Msun stars can attain velocities of $____ga$ 300-400 km/s (typical of the bound population of halo late B-type stars). We also found that the ejected stars can occasionally attain velocities exceeding the Milky Ways's escape velocity.

In this letter we study the eccentricity evolution of a massive black hole (MBH) binary (MBHB) embedded in a rotating stellar cusp. Following the observation that stars on counter-rotating (with respect to the MBHB) orbits extract angular momentum from the binary more efficiently then their co-rotating counterparts, the eccentricity evolution of the MBHB must depend on the degree of co-rotation (counter-rotation) of the surrounding stellar distribution. Using an hybrid scheme that couples numerical three-body scatterings to an analytical formalism for the cusp-binary interaction, we verify this hypothesis by evolving the MBHB in spherically symmetric cusps with different fractions F of co-rotating stars. Consistently with previous works, binaries in isotropic cusps (F=0.5) tend to increase their eccentricity, and when F approaches zero (counter-rotating cusps) the eccentricity rapidly increases to almost unity. Conversely, binaries in cusps with a significant degree of co-rotation (F>0.7) tend to become less and less eccentric, circularising quite quickly for F approaching unity. Direct N-body integrations performed to test the theory, corroborate the results of the hybrid scheme, at least at a qualitative level. We discuss quantitative differences, ascribing their origin to the oversimplified nature of the hybrid approach.

Alessandra Mastrobuono-Battisti, Hagai B. Perets, Alessia Gualandris, Nadine Neumayer, Anna C. Sippel (2019)Star formation at the Galactic Centre: coevolution of multiple young stellar discs, In: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Oxford University Press

Studies of the Galactic Centre suggest that in-situ star formation may have given rise to the observed stellar population near the central supermassive black hole (SMBH). Direct evidence for a recent starburst is provided by the currently observed young stellar disc (2-7Myr) in the central 0:5 pc of the Galaxy. This result suggests that star formation in galactic nuclei may occur close to the SMBH and produce initially attened stellar discs. Here we explore the possible build-up and evolution of nuclear stellar clusters near SMBHs through in-situ star formation producing stellar discs similar to those observed in the Galactic Centre and other nuclei. We make use of N-body simulations to model the evolution of multiple young stellar discs, and explore the potential observable signatures imprinted by such processes. Each of the five simulated discs is evolved for 100Myr before the next one is introduced in the system. We find that populations born at different epochs show different morphologies and kinematics. Older and presumably more metal poor populations are more relaxed and extended, while younger populations show a larger amount of rotation and attening. We conclude that star formation in central discs can reproduce the observed properties of multiple stellar populations in galactic nuclei differing in age, metallicity and kinematic properties.