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Published on Jul 12, 2012
This movie shows the merger of a black hole-neutron star binary in which the spin of the black hole is not aligned with the total angular momentum of the system, thus causing the orbital plane to precess. The black hole is 3 times more massive than the neutron star, and has a spin a=0.5 at an initial inclination of 80 degrees with respect to the orbital angular momentum of the binary. The main frame shows the evolution of the system from slightly above the initial equatorial plane, with the color scale giving the density of matter within the star, while the smaller panel shows the same system viewed from an "edge-on" position (i.e.: as seen by an observer located in the initial equatorial plane).
The binary goes through about 2 orbits, during which the separation between the compact objects drops from 60km to 30km. Then, tidal forces disrupt the neutron star. Most of the matter (~97%) is rapidly accreted by the black hole, while the rest forms a long tidal tail which eventually settles into an accretion disk. The relative precession of the star, tail and disk is clearly visible in the edge-on view. Towards the end of the simulation, the spin of the black hole and the angular momentum of the disk are misaligned by about 20 degrees, which will cause the precession of the disk over longer timescales.