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Stellar evolution and compact binaries

The life cycle of stars and binaries is central to our understanding of the Universe as they are the production sites of elements, host planetary systems and 'illuminate' galactic structure. At the end of their lifes collapsing stars lead to the formation of the most compact objects known: black holes and neutron stars, often seen in binary systems while accreting from a companion object.

Central questions in this theme are:

  • How do stars evolve in binary settings?
  • What are the final evolutionary processes for low-mass stars, and what is their impact on the formation and evolution of white dwarf binaries?
  • How does the common-envelope work and how does mass-loss in general affect binary evolution?
  • What is the interaction between stellar evolution and the evolution of star clusters?
  • How do star clusters survive/evolve in a Galactic environment?
  • How can asteroseismology give us insight into the inner workings of (massive) stars?
  • How many binary systems of what type reside in a typical galaxy, in particular with a view on the populations of gravitational wave sources?
  • How can we use relativistic binaries to probe fundamental physics?

These questions are addressed using observational methods, numerical simulations and theory. Important tools used by the Department are wide-field surveys, in particular the European Galactic Plane Surveys (IPHAS/UVEX/VPHAS+), the Galactic Bulge Survey, and SDSS, synoptic observations (fast photometry/spectroscopy of binaries and synoptic wide-field surveys such as PTF, OmegaWhite, MeerLICHT, BlackGEM and Gaia), numerical simulations, in particular detailed evolution codes, binary population synthesis codes and the AMUSE software environment, high- resolution spatial observation with e.g. HST, and pulsar timing observations.

Goals for the next six years

The broadly-formulated goal in the next six years for this research line is to understand the Galactic populations of binary systems, for both low-mass and high-mass stars. Various specific sub-goals have been identified:

  • Understanding the effect of mass-loss on binary evolution, in particular the effect on Galactic populations, as well as on the chemical evolution within star clusters and galaxies.
  • Which progenitors leave what remnants: the road towards double degenerate systems, in particular those that would form gravitational-wave sources
  • Understanding the orbital and chemical properties of binaries that have undergone interaction during the red-giant phases.

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