Orbital decay of supermassive black hole binaries in clumpy multiphase merger remnants Academic Article uri icon

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  • We simulate an equal-mass merger of two Milky Way-size galaxy discs with moderate gas fractions at parsec-scale resolution including a new model for radiative cooling and heating in a multi-phase medium, as well as star formation and feedback from supernovae. The two discs initially have a $2.6\times10^6\mathrm{~M_{\odot}}$ supermassive black hole (SMBH) embedded in their centers. As the merger completes and the two galactic cores merge, the SMBHs form a a pair with a separation of a few hundred pc that gradually decays. Due to the stochastic nature of the system immediately following the merger, the orbital plane of the binary is significantly perturbed. Furthermore, owing to the strong starburst the gas from the central region is completely evacuated, requiring $\sim10$~Myr for a nuclear disc to rebuild. Most importantly, the clumpy nature of the interstellar medium has a major impact on the the dynamical evolution of the SMBH pair, which undergo gravitational encounters with massive gas clouds and stochastic torquing by both clouds and spiral modes in the disk. These effects combine to greatly delay the decay of the two SMBHs to separations of a few parsecs by nearly two orders of magnitude, $\sim 10^8$ yr, compared to previous work. In mergers of more gas-rich, clumpier galaxies at high redshift stochastic torques will be even more pronounced and potentially lead to stronger modulation of the orbital decay. This suggests that SMBH pairs at separations of several tens of parsecs should be relatively common at any redshift.


  • Roškar, Rok
  • Fiacconi, Davide
  • Mayer, Lucio
  • Kazantzidis, Stelios
  • Quinn, Thomas R
  • Wadsley, James

publication date

  • May 1, 2015