PopCORN: Hunting down the differences between binary population synthesis codes

Silvia Toonen, Joke Claeys, Nicki Mennekens, Ashley Ruiter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Citations (Scopus)


Binary population synthesis (BPS) modelling is a very effective tool to study the evolution and properties of various types of close binary systems. The uncertainty in the parameters of the model and their effect on a population can be tested in a statistical way, which then leads to a deeper understanding of the underlying (sometimes poorly understood) physical processes involved. Several BPS codes exist that have been developed with different philosophies and aims. Although BPS has been very successful for studies of many populations of binary stars, in the particular case of the study of the progenitors of supernovae Type Ia, the predicted rates and ZAMS progenitors vary substantially between different BPS codes. To understand the predictive power of BPS codes, we study the similarities and differences in the predictions of four different BPS codes for low- and intermediate-mass binaries. We investigate the differences in the characteristics of the predicted populations, and whether they are caused by different assumptions made in the BPS codes or by numerical effects, e.g. a lack of accuracy in BPS codes. We compare a large number of evolutionary sequences for binary stars, starting with the same initial conditions following the evolution until the first (and when applicable, the second) white dwarf (WD) is formed. To simplify the complex problem of comparing BPS codes that are based on many (often different) assumptions, we equalise the assumptions as much as possible to examine the inherent differences of the four BPS codes. We find that the simulated populations are similar between the codes. Regarding the population of binaries with one WD, there is very good agreement between the physical characteristics, the evolutionary channels that lead to the birth of these systems, and their birthrates. Regarding the double WD population, there is a good agreement on which evolutionary channels exist to create double WDs and a rough agreement on the characteristics of the double WD population. Regarding which progenitor systems lead to a single and double WD system and which systems do not, the four codes agree well. Most importantly, we find that for these two populations, the differences in the predictions from the four codes are not due to numerical differences, but because of different inherent assumptions. We identify critical assumptions for BPS studies that need to be studied in more detail.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages34
JournalAstronomy & Astrophysics
Issue numberA14
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014


  • stars: binaries: close
  • stars: evolution
  • stars: white dwarf


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