Accretion disks around binary black holes: A quasistationary model

Yuk Tung Liu, Stuart L. Shapiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Tidal torques acting on a gaseous accretion disk around a binary black hole can create a gap in the disk near the orbital radius. At late times, when the binary inspiral time scale due to gravitational wave emission becomes shorter than the viscous time scale in the disk, the binary decouples from the disk and eventually merges. Prior to decoupling the balance between tidal and viscous torques drives the disk to a quasistationary equilibrium state, perturbed slightly by small amplitude, spiral density waves emanating from the edges of the gap. We consider a black hole binary with a companion of smaller mass and construct a simple Newtonian model for a geometrically thin, Keplerian disk in the orbital plane of the binary. We solve the disk evolution equations in the steady state to determine the quasistationary, (orbit-averaged) surface density profile prior to decoupling. We use our solution, which is analytic up to simple quadratures, to compute the electromagnetic flux and approximate radiation spectrum during this epoch. A single nondimensional parameter g, equal to the ratio of the tidal to viscous torque at the orbital radius, determines the disk structure, including the surface density profile, the extent of the gap, the existence of an inner disk, and the accretion rate. The solution reduces to the Shakura-Sunyaev profile for a stationary accretion disk around a single black hole in the limit of small g. Our solution may be useful for choosing physical parameters and setting up quasistationary disk initial data for detailed numerical simulations that begin prior to decoupling and track the subsequent evolution of a black hole binary-disk system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number123011
JournalPhysical Review D - Particles, Fields, Gravitation and Cosmology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 28 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nuclear and High Energy Physics
  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)


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