Resonant Relaxation in Stellar Systems

Kevin P. Rauch and Scott Tremaine
Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics,
University of Toronto,
60 St. George St., Toronto, On M5S 3H8, Canada.


We demonstrate the existence of an enhanced rate of angular momentum relaxation in nearly Keplerian star clusters, such as those found in the centers of galactic nuclei containing massive black holes. The enhanced relaxation arises because the radial and azimuthal orbital frequencies in a Keplerian potential are equal, and hence may be termed resonant relaxation. We explore the dynamics of resonant relaxation using both numerical simulations and order-of-magnitude analytic calculations. We find that the resonant angular momentum relaxation time is shorter than the non-resonant relaxation time by of order M*/M, where M* is the mass in stars and M is the mass of the central object. Resonance does not enhance the energy relaxation rate. We examine the effect of resonant relaxation on the rate of tidal disruption of stars by the central mass; we find that the flux of stars into the loss cone is enhanced when the loss cone is empty, but that the disruption rate averaged over the entire cluster is not strongly affected. We show that relativistic precession can disable resonant relaxation near the main-sequence loss cone for black hole masses comparable to those in galactic nuclei. Resonant dynamical friction leads to growth or decay of the eccentricity of the orbit of a massive body, depending on whether the distribution function of the stars is predominantly radial or tangential. The accelerated relaxation implies that there are regions in nuclear star clusters that are relaxed in angular momentum but not in energy; unfortunately, these regions are not well-resolved in most nearby galaxies by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Keywords: black hole physics --- galaxies: active --- galaxies: kinematics and dynamics --- galaxies: nuclei --- stellar dynamics

Status: Appeared in NewA, 1, 149 (1996).