Relativistic Phase Space Diffusion of Compact Object Binaries in Stellar Clusters and Hierarchical Triples

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jats:titleAbstract</jats:title> jats:pThe LIGO/Virgo detections of compact object mergers have posed a challenge for theories of binary evolution and coalescence. One promising avenue for producing mergers dynamically is through secular eccentricity oscillations driven by an external perturber, be it a tertiary companion (as in the Lidov–Kozai, LK, mechanism) or the tidal field of the stellar cluster in which the binary orbits. The simplest theoretical models of these oscillations use a “doubly averaged” (DA) approximation, averaging both over the binary’s internal Keplerian orbit and its “outer” barycentric orbit relative to the perturber. However, DA theories do not account for fluctuations of the perturbing torque on the outer orbital timescale, which are known to increase a binary’s eccentricity beyond the maximum DA value, potentially accelerating mergers. Here we reconsider the impact of these short-timescale fluctuations in the test-particle quadrupolar limit for binaries perturbed by arbitrary spherical cluster potentials (including LK as a special case), in particular including 1pN general relativistic (GR) apsidal precession of the internal orbit. Focusing on the behavior of the binary orbital elements around peak eccentricity, we discover a new effect, jats:italicrelativistic phase space diffusion</jats:italic> (RPSD), in which a binary can jump to a completely new dynamical trajectory on an outer orbital timescale, violating the approximate conservation of DA integrals of motion. RPSD arises from an interplay between secular behavior at extremely high eccentricity, short-timescale fluctuations, and rapid GR precession, and can change the subsequent secular evolution dramatically. This effect occurs even in hierarchical triples, but has not been uncovered until now.</jats:p>

5109 Space Sciences, 51 Physical Sciences
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Astrophysical Journal
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American Astronomical Society
STFC (ST/T00049X/1)