Protostars and Planets VI, Heidelberg, July 15-20, 2013

Poster 1K078

Probing Binary Formation Theories with the Largest Catalog of Ultra-wide, Low-mass Binaries

Dhital, Saurav (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University)
West, Andrew A. (Boston University)
Stassun, Keivan G. (Vanderbilt University)
Law, Nicholas M. (University of Toronto)
Massey, Angela P. (Boston University)

We present results from the Sloan Low-mass Wide Pairs of Kinematically Equivalent Stars (SLoWPoKES) catalogs of ultra-wide (10^3–5.5 AU), low-mass (K5–M7) visual binaries, comprising of over 100,000 pairs. We constructed a Galactic model, based on empirical stellar number density and 3D velocity distributions, to select bona fide pairs with probability of chance alignment ≤5%, making SLoWPoKES an efficient sample for followup observations. The diversity—in mass, metallicity, age, and evolutionary states—of SLoWPoKES pairs makes it a valuable resource of coeval laboratories to examine and constrain the physical properties of low-mass stars. SLoWPoKES appears to contain two populations of wide binaries, with a break at projected physical separation of ~0.1 pc, suggesting that they were formed via different mechanisms or have significantly different dynamical history. Followup high-resolution imaging has revealed that the multiplicity in ”individual” stars in the ultra-wide binaries (higher-order multiplicity) is significantly higher than in tighter binaries or low-mass field stars. This is consistent with the premise that ultra-wide systems are the result of dynamical widening via transfer of angular momentum from the outer orbit to the inner orbit, followed by dissipation via interactions with Galactic tide and giant molecular clouds. Indeed, we find that the higher-order multiplicity decreases with Galactic height, evidence that they are destroyed over time. This bimodality, however, is also consistent with recent theoretical predictions, which show that the ultra-wide binaries are not formed primordially but during dissipation of star clusters. Our data do not rule out either scenario but indicate neither mechanism can form all of the observed wide binaries. We conclude that multiple processes, not all of which are primordial, are likely responsible for the observed distribution of stellar binaries.

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