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Relativistic dynamics of stars near a supermassive black hole

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DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stu1126
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General relativistic precession limits the ability of gravitational encounters to increase the eccentricity $e$ of orbits near a supermassive black hole (SBH). This "Schwarzschild barrier" (SB) has been shown to play an important role in the orbital evolution of stars like the galactic center S-stars. However, the evolution of orbits below the SB, $e>e_\mathrm{SB}$, is not well understood; the main current limitation is the computational complexity of detailed simulations. Here we present an $N$-body algorithm that allows us to efficiently integrate orbits of test stars around a SBH including general relativistic corrections to the equations of motion and interactions with a large ($\gtrsim 10^3$) number of field stars. We apply our algorithm to the S-stars and extract diffusion coefficients describing the evolution in angular momentum $L$. We identify three angular momentum regimes, in which the diffusion coefficients depend in functionally different ways on $L$. Regimes of lowest and highest $L$ are well-described in terms of non-resonant relaxation (NRR) and resonant relaxation (RR), respectively. In addition, we find a new regime of "anomalous relaxation" (AR). We present analytic expressions, in terms of physical parameters, that describe the diffusion coefficients in all three regimes, and propose a new, empirical criterion for the location of the SB in terms of the $L$-dependence of the diffusion coefficients. Subsequently we apply our results to obtain the steady-state distribution of angular momentum for orbits near a SBH.


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