An eccentric circumbinary accretion disk and the detection of binary massive black holes

Andrew I. Macfadyen, Miloš Milosavljević

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    We present a two-dimensional grid-based hydrodynamic simulation of a thin, viscous, locally isothermal corotating disk orbiting an equal-mass Newtonian binary point mass on a fixed circular orbit. We study the structure of the disk after multiple viscous times. The binary maintains a central hole in the viscously relaxed disk with radius equal to about twice the binary semimajor axis. Disk surface density within the hole is reduced by orders of magnitude relative to the density in the disk bulk. The inner truncation of the disk resembles the clearing of a gap in a protoplanetary disk. An initially circular disk becomes elliptical and then eccentric. Disturbances in the disk contain a component that is stationary in the rotating frame in which the binary is at rest; this component is a two-armed spiral density wave. We measure the distribution of the binary torque in the disk and find that the strongest positive torque is exerted inside the central low-density hole. We make connection with the linear theory of disk forcing at outer Lindblad resonances (OLRs) and find that the measured torque density distribution is consistent with forcing at the 3:2 (m = 2) OLR, well within the central hole. We also measure the time dependence of the rate at which gas accretes across the hole and find quasi-periodic structure. We discuss implications for variability and detection of active galactic nuclei containing a binary massive black hole.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)83-93
    Number of pages11
    JournalAstrophysical Journal
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2008


    • Accretion, accretion disks
    • Binaries: general
    • Black hole physics
    • Galaxies: nuclei
    • Hydrodynamics

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Astronomy and Astrophysics
    • Space and Planetary Science


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