Journal Article

Fossil gas and the electromagnetic precursor of supermassive binary black hole mergers

Philip Chang, Linda E. Strubbe, Kristen Menou and Eliot Quataert

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 407, issue 3, pages 2007-2016
Published in print September 2010 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online September 2010 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
Fossil gas and the electromagnetic precursor of supermassive binary black hole mergers

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Using a 1D height integrated model, we calculate the evolution of an unequal mass binary black hole with a coplanar gas disc that contains a gap due to the presence of the secondary black hole. Viscous evolution of the outer circumbinary disc initially hardens the binary, while the inner disc drains on to the primary (central) black hole. As long as the inner disc remains cool and thin at low (rather than becoming hot and geometrically thick), the mass of the inner disc reaches an asymptotic mass typically ∼10−3–10−4 M. Once the semimajor axis shrinks below a critical value, angular momentum losses from gravitational waves dominate over viscous transport in hardening the binary. The inner disc then no longer responds viscously to the inspiraling black holes. Instead, tidal interactions with the secondary rapidly drive the inner disc into the primary. Tidal and viscous dissipation in the inner disc lead to a late time brightening in luminosity, Lt−5/4minus, where tminus is the time prior to the final merger. This late time brightening peaks ∼1 d prior to the final merger at ∼0.1LEdd. This behaviour is relatively robust because of self-regulation in the coupled viscous–gravitational evolution of such binary systems. It constitutes a unique electromagnetic signature of a binary supermassive black hole merger and may allow the host galaxy to be identified if used in conjunction with the Laser Interferometric Space Antenna localization.

Keywords: accretion, accretion discs; black hole physics; gravitational waves; binaries: general; galaxies: active; galaxies: nuclei; quasars: general

Journal Article.  6720 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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