Friday, July 12, 2013

1307.2900 (Morgan MacLeod et al.)

Spoon-Feeding Giant Stars to Supermassive Black Holes: Episodic Roche Lobe Overflow from Evolving Stars and Their Contribution to the Quiescent Activity of Galactic Nuclei    [PDF]

Morgan MacLeod, Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, Sean Grady, James Guillochon
Stars may be tidally disrupted if, in a single orbit, they are scattered too close to a supermassive black hole (SMBH). Tidal disruption events are thought to power luminous but short-lived accretion episodes that can light up otherwise quiescent SMBHs in transient flares. Here we explore a more gradual process of tidal stripping where stars approach the tidal disruption radius by stellar evolution while in an eccentric orbit. After the onset of mass transfer, these stars episodically overflow their Roche lobes every pericenter passage giving rise to low-level flares that repeat on the orbital timescale. Giant stars, in particular, will exhibit a runaway response to mass loss and "spoon-feed" material to the black hole for tens to hundreds of orbital periods. In contrast to full tidal disruption events, the duty cycle of this feeding mode is of order unity for black holes with mass greater than approximately 10 million solar masses. This mode of quasi-steady SMBH feeding is competitive with indirect SMBH feeding through stellar winds, and spoon-fed giant stars may play a significant role in determining the quiescent luminosity of local SMBHs.
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