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Dynamical friction around supermassive black holes

Antonini, Fabio and Merritt, David 2011. Dynamical friction around supermassive black holes. Astrophysical Journal 745 (83) 10.1088/0004-637X/745/1/83

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The density of stars in galactic bulges is often observed to be flat or slowly rising inside the influence radius of the supermassive black hole (SMBH). Attributing the dynamical-friction force to stars moving more slowly than the test body, as is commonly done, is likely to be a poor approximation in such a core since there are no stars moving more slowly than the local circular velocity. We have tested this prediction using large-scale N-body experiments. The rate of orbital decay never drops precisely to zero, because stars moving faster than the test body also contribute to the frictional force. When the contribution from the fast-moving stars is included in the expression for the dynamical-friction force, and the changes induced by the massive body on the stellar distribution are taken into account, Chandrasekhar's theory is found to reproduce the rate of orbital decay remarkably well. However, this rate is still substantially smaller than the rate predicted by Chandrasekhar's formula in its most widely used forms, implying longer timescale for inspiral. Motivated by recent observations that suggest a parsec-scale core around the Galactic center (GC) SMBH, we investigate the evolution of a population of stellar-mass black holes (BHs) as they spiral into the center of the Galaxy. After ~10 Gyr, we find that the density of BHs can remain substantially less than the density in stars at all radii; we conclude that it would be unjustified to assume that the spatial distribution of BHs at the GC is well described by steady-state models. One consequence is that rates of capture of BHs by the SMBH at the Galactic center (extreme-mass-ratio inspirals) may be much lower than in standard models. When capture occurs, inspiraling BHs often reach the gravitational-radiation-dominated regime while on orbits that are still highly eccentric; even after the semimajor axis has decreased to values small enough for detection by space-based interferometers, eccentricities can be large enough that the efficient analysis of gravitational wave signals would require the use of eccentric templates. We finally study the orbital decay of satellite galaxies into the central region of giant ellipticals and discuss the formation of multi nuclei and multiplet of black holes in such systems.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Physics and Astronomy
Publisher: American Astronomical Society
ISSN: 0004-637X
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 19 February 2020
Date of Acceptance: 17 November 2011
Last Modified: 28 Feb 2020 10:45

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