James Lombardi
Allegheny College

Below is a sampling of visualizations of various stellar collisions and mergers. To save any to your computer, right click on the link and choose "Save Target/Link As...." Use freely, but please give appropriate credit.

Twin Binaries: Studies of Stability, Mass Transfer, and Coalescence

Mergers of binaries can ultimately lead to the formation of exotic systems such as binary neutron stars or planetary nebulae with double degenerate cores. These visualizations are from simulations published in Lombardi, Holtzman, Dooley, Gearity, Kalogera, & Rasio (2011) and are shown in a frame rotating with a period nearly matching the initial orbital period.

Blue straggler formation

Given the the great age of clusters, it was predicted that stars more massive than about 80% the mass of the Sun, the so-called turnoff mass, should have evolved to later stages of stellar life, ultimately "dying" off as a dim stellar remnant such as a white dwarf, neutron star, or black hole. Nevertheless, when one observes a globular cluster, a number of bluish main-sequence stars, more massive than the turnoff mass, are seen scattered throughout. These "blue stragglers" appear to 'straggle' behind in their evolution, since, despite being more massive than the turnoff mass, they have not yet left the main-sequence.

The calculations performed by Alexander Brown '09 and Lombardi help establish that these exotic blue stragglers can indeed be formed through the collision of garden-variety main-sequence stars in a cluster. Visualizations of one of their simulations were featured in two recent episodes of a History Channel series entitled "The Universe."

Here we provide visualizations and individual frames of a collision between a 0.8 and a 0.7 solar mass star at a periastron separation of 0.89 solar radii. The file size of these particular movies and frames exceed 100 MB, so be patient!
Quicktime movie, jpeg's of frames (zipped): 2D cross section in orbital plane with colors representing density. (Very large files!)
Quicktime movie, jpeg's of frames (zipped): Line of sight view with colors representing column density. (Very large files!)

mov file: collision between a 0.8 solar mass and 0.6 solar mass star. Clip is from the "Cosmic Collision" skyshow shown at the Hayden planetarium, the National Air and Space Museum, the Museum of Nature and Science, and the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum.
avi file: the different colors represent different constant density surfaces. The top halves of the outer two isodensity surfaces have been removed so that we can see deep into the stars.
mpeg file: collision between a 0.8 and a 0.6 solar mass star at a periastron separation of 0.37 solar radii. 2D cross section in orbital plane with colors representing density.

avi file: 3D particle plot showing the first collision in a triple star merger.
mov file: 3D particle plot showing the second collision in a triple star merger.


Ultracompact X-ray binary formation

Collisions between neutron stars and subgiants can lead to the formation of ultracompact x-ray binaries. These visualizations present hydrodynamics calculations of a collision between a 1.4 solar mass neutron star and an 0.9 solar mass subgiant star, on initially parabolic trajectories with a periastron separation of 3.8 solar radii. Colors correspond to the column density of the fluid along the line of sight.
mov file: Periastron separation of 1.9 solar radii.
mov file: Periastron separation of 3.8 solar radii.


Intermediate mass black hole formation

Runaway collisions involving high mass main-sequence stars in young star clusters may ultimately lead to the formation of intermediate mass black holes.
mov file: 106 and 77 solar mass stars colliding with a periastron separation of 24 solar radii and an orbital eccentricity of 1.02 (from Valerie McVay's comp).

This next visualizations, made in collaboration with Scott Fleming and Katherine Dooley, present hydrodynamics calculations of a collision between a 53 solar mass and an 18 solar mass star, with an orbital eccentricity of 0.68 and periastron separation of 23 solar radii (see the March 2004 Astronomy Magazine). Initial conditions were taken from the first stellar collision in a runaway sequence in a cluster dynamics simulation by Portegies Zwart et al., at a time of 3.0 Myr. The stellar models were taken from stellar evolution calculations by D. Arnett's Tycho code. The visualization is given a three-dimensional feel by assigning colors according to the column density of the fluid along the line of sight:
512x384 mov file: radiation and ideal gas pressure included.
1000x750 mov file: ideal gas only.


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Last updated: May 2013