Creation/destruction of ultra-wide binaries in tidal streams

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This paper uses statistical and N-body methods to explore a new mechanism to form binary stars with extremely large separations (≳ 0.1 pc), whose origin is poorly understood. Here, ultra-wide binaries arise via chance entrapment of unrelated stars in tidal streams of disrupting clusters. It is shown that (i) the formation of ultra-wide binaries is not limited to the lifetime of a cluster, but continues after the progenitor is fully disrupted, (ii) the formation rate is proportional to the local phase-space density of the tidal tails, (iii) the semimajor axis distribution scales as p(a)da ∼ a1/2da at a ≪ D, where D is the mean interstellar distance, and (vi) the eccentricity distribution is close to thermal, p(e)de = 2ede. Owing to their low binding energies, ultra-wide binaries can be disrupted by both the smooth tidal field and passing substructures. The time-scale on which tidal fluctuations dominate over the mean field is inversely proportional to the local density of compact substructures. Monte-Carlo experiments show that binaries subject to tidal evaporation follow p(a)da ∼ a−1da at a ≳ apeak, known as Öpik’s law, with a peak semi-major axis that contracts with time as apeak ∼ t−3/4. In contrast, a smooth Galactic potential introduces a sharp truncation at the tidal radius, p(a) ∼ 0 at a ≳ rt. The scaling relations of young clusters suggest that most ultra-wide binaries arise from the disruption of low-mass systems. Streams of globular clusters may be the birthplace of hundreds of ultra-wide binaries, making them ideal laboratories to probe clumpiness in the Galactic halo.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3670-3686
Number of pages17
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
Early online date30 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2021


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