The Viscous Evolution of White Dwarf Merger Remnants

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 427, Issue 1, pp. 190-203

Josiah Schwab, Ken J. Shen, Eliot Quataert, Marius Dan, Stephan Rosswog

The merger of two white dwarfs (WDs) creates a differentially rotating remnant which is unstable to magnetohydrodynamic instabilities. These instabilities can lead to viscous evolution on a time-scale short compared to the thermal evolution of the remnant. We present multi-dimensional hydrodynamic simulations of the evolution of WD merger remnants under the action of an $\alpha$-viscosity. We initialize our calculations using the output of eight WD merger simulations from Dan et al. (2011), which span a range of mass ratios and total masses. We generically find that the merger remnants evolve towards spherical states on time-scales of hours, even though a significant fraction of the mass is initially rotationally supported. The viscous evolution unbinds only a very small amount of mass $(< 10^{-5} M_\odot)$. Viscous heating causes some of the systems we study with He WD secondaries to reach conditions of nearly dynamical burning. It is thus possible that the post-merger viscous phase triggers detonation of the He envelope in some WD mergers, potentially producing a Type Ia supernova via a double detonation scenario. Our calculations provide the proper initial conditions for studying the long-term thermal evolution of WD merger remnants. This is important for understanding WD mergers as progenitors of Type Ia supernovae, neutron stars, R Coronae Borealis stars and other phenomena.

Further Evidence for the Bimodal Distribution of Neutron-star Masses

The Astrophysical Journal, Volume 719, Issue 1, pp. 722-727 (2010)

Josiah Schwab, Philipp Podsiadlowski and Saul Rappaport

We use a collection of 14 well-measured neutron-star masses to strengthen the case that a substantial fraction of these neutron stars were formed via electron-capture (e-capture) supernovae (SNe) as opposed to Fe core-collapse SNe. The e-capture SNe are characterized by lower resultant gravitational masses and smaller natal kicks, leading to lower orbital eccentricities when the e-capture SN has led to the formation of the second neutron star in a binary system. Based on the measured masses and eccentricities, we identify four neutron stars, which have a mean post-collapse gravitational mass of ~1.25 M sun, as the product of e-capture SNe. We associate the remaining 10 neutron stars, which have a mean mass of ~1.35 M sun, with Fe core-collapse SNe. If the e-capture SN occurs during the formation of the first neutron star, then this should substantially increase the formation probability for double neutron stars, given that more systems will remain bound with the smaller kicks. However, this does not appear to be the case for any of the observed systems and we discuss possible reasons for this.

Galaxy-Scale Strong-Lensing Tests of Gravity and Geometric Cosmology: Constraints and Systematic Limitations

The Astrophysical Journal, Volume 708, Issue 1, pp. 750-757 (2010)

Josiah Schwab, Adam Bolton and Saul Rappaport

Galaxy-scale strong gravitational lenses with measured stellar velocity dispersions allow a test of the weak-field metric on kiloparsec scales and a geometric measurement of the cosmological distance-redshift relation, provided that the mass-dynamical structure of the lensing galaxies can be independently constrained to a sufficient degree. We combine data on 53 galaxy-scale strong lenses from the Sloan Lens ACS Survey with a well-motivated fiducial set of lens-galaxy parameters to find (1) a constraint on the post-Newtonian parameter γ = 1.01 ± 0.05, and (2) a determination of ΩΛ = 0.75 ± 0.17 under the assumption of a flat universe. These constraints assume that the underlying observations and priors are free of systematic error. We evaluate the sensitivity of these results to systematic uncertainties in (1) total mass-profile shape, (2) velocity anisotropy, (3) light-profile shape, and (4) stellar velocity dispersion. Based on these sensitivities, we conclude that while such strong-lens samples can, in principle, provide an important tool for testing general relativity and cosmology, they are unlikely to yield precision measurements of γ and ΩΛ unless the properties of the lensing galaxies are independently constrained with substantially greater accuracy than at present.