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Extreme tidal interactions between stars, planets and black holes

Academic lead
Chris Nixon​, Physics and Astronomy
Adrian Barker, Maths, Cheng Chen​, Physics and Astronomy, Gabriella Zsidi, Physics and Astronomy, Eric Coughlin, Physics, Syracuse University
Project themes
Geophysical and Astrophysical Flows

Tides between astrophysical fluid objects are ubiquitous in astrophysics, from planets orbiting their host stars to stars orbiting supermassive black holes in galaxy centres. In many cases the tidal forces can become extreme and comparable to the self-gravitational force holding the celestial body together resulting in its disruption. This can occur when a planet migrates too close to its central star, and in galaxy centres where stars routinely pass too close to the central black hole. The debris from the disrupted object accretes on to the disrupter in a luminous flare. Understanding the fluid dynamics of such tidal disruptions is an exciting active area of research, with fresh impetus provided by the arrival of all-sky monitoring facilities that detect a large number of such events (e.g. LSST/Rubin Observatory is predicted to find many thousands). While hydrodynamical numerical simulations become increasingly more sophisticated for exploring the dynamics in individual cases, progress is hampered by a lack of analytical understanding of this process. In this project we will test the limitations of current analytical models with numerical simulations, and develop new analytical models that can be applied to populations of systems to enable comparison of the theory with observational data.