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Published March 2023 | Published
Journal Article Open

A new discrete dynamical friction estimator based on N-body simulations


A long-standing problem in galactic simulations is to resolve the dynamical friction (DF) force acting on massive black hole particles when their masses are comparable to or less than the background simulation particles. Many sub-grid models based on the traditional Chandrasekhar DF formula have been proposed, yet they suffer from fundamental ambiguities in the definition of some terms in Chandrasekhar's formula when applied to real galaxies, as well as difficulty in evaluating continuous quantities from (spatially) discrete simulation data. In this work, we present a new sub-grid DF estimator based on the discrete nature of N-body simulations, which also avoids the ambiguously defined quantities in Chandrasekhar's formula. We test our estimator in the gizmo code and find that it agrees well with high-resolution simulations where DF is fully captured, with negligible additional computational cost. We also compare it with a Chandrasekhar estimator and discuss its applications in real galactic simulations.

Additional Information

© 2023 The Author(s) Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Royal Astronomical Society. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model). We thank Sophia Taylor for early contributions to the development of the discrete DF estimator, and Daniel Anglés-Alcézar for useful discussions. Support for LM and PFH was provided by NSF Collaborative Research Grants 1715847 and 1911233, NSF CAREER grant 1455342, and NASA grants 80NSSC18K0562 and JPL 1589742. LZK was supported by NSF-AAG-1910209, and by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement through a Cottrell Fellowship Award. CAFG was supported by NSF through grants AST-1715216, AST-2108230, and CAREER award AST-1652522; by NASA through grants 17-ATP17-0067 and 21-ATP21-0036; by STScI through grants HST-AR-16124.001-A and HST-GO-16730.016-A; by CXO through grant TM2-23005X; and by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement through a Cottrell Scholar Award. Numerical calculations were run on the Caltech compute cluster 'Wheeler', allocations FTA-Hopkins supported by the NSF and TACC, and NASA HEC SMD-16-7592. DATA AVAILABILITY. The data and source code supporting the plots within this article are available on reasonable request to the corresponding author.

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August 22, 2023
August 22, 2023