Convective dynamos of black widow companions

Jordan Conrad-Burton, Alon Shabi, Sivan Ginzburg*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Black widows and redbacks are binary millisecond pulsars with close low-mass companions that are irradiated and gradually ablated by the pulsar's high-energy luminosity Lirr. These binaries evolve primarily through magnetic braking, which extracts orbital angular momentum and pushes the companion to overflow its Roche lobe. Here, we use the stellar evolution code mesa to examine how the irradiation modifies the companion's structure. Strong Lirr inhibits convection to the extent that otherwise fully convective stars become almost fully radiative. By computing the convective velocities and assuming a dynamo mechanism, we find that the thin convective envelopes of such strongly irradiated companions () generate much weaker magnetic fields than previously thought - halting binary evolution. With our improved magnetic braking model, we explain most observed black widow and redback companions as remnants of main-sequence stars. We also apply our model (with Lirr) to evolved companions that overflow their Roche lobe close to the end of their main-sequence phase. The evolutionary tracks of such companions bifurcate, explaining the shortest period systems (which are potential gravitational wave sources) as well as the longest period ones (which are the progenitors of common pulsar-white dwarf binaries). The variety of black widow structures and evolutionary trajectories may be utilized to calibrate the dependence of magnetic braking on the size of the convective layer and on the existence of a radiative-convective boundary, with implications for single stars as well as other binaries, such as cataclysmic variables and AM Canum Venaticorum stars.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2708-2715
Number of pages8
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s) Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Royal Astronomical Society.


  • binaries: close
  • pulsars: general
  • stars: evolution
  • stars: magnetic fields


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