M. Coleman Miller

University of Maryland, College Park, CGS, Maryland, United States

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Publications (141)636.32 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Tidal forces close to massive black holes can violently disrupt stars that make a close approach. These extreme events are discovered via bright X-ray and optical/UV flares in galactic centers. Prior studies based on modeling decaying flux trends have been able to estimate broad properties, such as the mass accretion rate. Here we report the detection of flows of highly ionized X-ray gas in high-resolution X-ray spectra of a nearby tidal disruption event. Variability within the absorption-dominated spectra indicates that the gas is relatively close to the black hole. Narrow line widths indicate that the gas does not stretch over a large range of radii, giving a low volume filling factor. Modest outflow speeds of a few hundred kilometers per second are observed, significantly below the escape speed from the radius set by variability. The gas flow is consistent with a rotating wind from the inner, super-Eddington region of a nascent accretion disk, or with a filament of disrupted stellar gas near to the apocenter of an elliptical orbit. Flows of this sort are predicted by fundamental analytical theory and more recent numerical simulations.
    Preview · Article · Oct 2015 · Nature
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    ABSTRACT: Broad Fe K emission lines have been widely observed in the X-ray spectra of black hole systems, and in neutron star systems as well. The intrinsically narrow Fe K fluorescent line is generally believed to be part of the reflection spectrum originating in an illuminated accretion disk, and broadened by strong relativistic effects. However, the nature of the lines in neutron star LMXBs has been under debate. We therefore obtained the longest, high-resolution X-ray spectrum of a neutron star LMXB to date with a 300 ks Chandra HETGS observation of Serpens X-1. The observation was taken under the "continuous clocking" mode and thus free of photon pile-up effects. We carry out a systematic analysis and find that the blurred reflection model fits the Fe line of Serpens X-1 significantly better than a broad Gaussian component does, implying that the relativistic reflection scenario is much preferred. Chandra HETGS also provides highest spectral resolution view of the Fe K region and we find no strong evidence for additional narrow lines.
    Full-text · Article · Sep 2015
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    Lixin Dai · Jonathan C. McKinney · M. Coleman Miller
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    ABSTRACT: One of the puzzles associated with tidal disruption event candidates (TDEs) is that there is a dichotomy between the color temperatures of ${\rm few}\times 10^4$ K for TDEs discovered with optical and UV telescopes, and the color temperatures of ${\rm few}\times 10^5 - 10^6$ K for TDEs discovered with X-ray satellites. Here we propose that high-temperature TDEs are produced when the tidal debris of a disrupted star self-intersects relatively close to the SMBH, in contrast to the more distant self-intersection that leads to lower color temperatures. In particular, we note from simple ballistic considerations that greater apsidal precession in an orbit is the key to closer self-intersection. Thus larger values of $\beta$, the ratio of the tidal radius to the pericenter distance of the initial orbit, are more likely to lead to high temperatures. For a given star and $\beta$, apsidal precession also increases for larger black hole masses, but larger black hole masses imply a lower temperature at a fixed Eddington ratio. Thus the expected dependence of the temperature on the mass of the black hole is non-monotonic. We find that in order to produce a soft X-ray temperature TDE, a deeply plunging stellar orbit with $\beta> 3$ is needed and a black hole mass of $\lesssim 5\times 10^6 M_\odot$ is favored. Although observations of TDEs are comparatively scarce and are likely dominated by selection effects, it is encouraging that both predictions are consistent with current data.
    Full-text · Article · Jul 2015
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    M. Coleman Miller
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    ABSTRACT: Among the many intriguing aspects of optically discovered tidal disruption events is that their temperatures are lower than expected and that the temperature does not evolve as rapidly with decreasing fallback rate as would be expected in standard disk theory. We show that this can be explained qualitatively using an idea proposed by Laor & Davis in the context of normal active galactic nuclei: that larger accretion rates imply stronger winds and thus that the accretion rate through the inner disk only depends weakly on the inflow rate at the outer edge of the disk. We also show that reasonable quantitative agreement with data requires that, as has been suggested in recent papers, the circularization radius of the tidal stream is approximately equal to the semimajor axis of the most bound orbit of the debris rather than twice the pericenter distance as would be expected without rapid angular momentum redistribution. If this explanation is correct, it suggests that the evolution of tidal disruption events may test both non-standard disk theory and the details of the interactions of the tidal stream.
    Preview · Article · Feb 2015 · The Astrophysical Journal
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    M. Coleman Miller · Jon M. Miller
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    ABSTRACT: Stellar-mass black holes and neutron stars represent extremes in gravity, density, and magnetic fields. They therefore serve as key objects in the study of multiple frontiers of physics. In addition, their origin (mainly in core-collapse supernovae) and evolution (via accretion or, for neutron stars, magnetic spindown and reconfiguration) touch upon multiple open issues in astrophysics. In this review, we discuss current mass and spin measurements and their reliability for neutron stars and stellar-mass black holes, as well as the overall importance of spins and masses for compact object astrophysics. Current masses are obtained primarily through electromagnetic observations of binaries, although future microlensing observations promise to enhance our understanding substantially. The spins of neutron stars are straightforward to measure for pulsars, but the birth spins of neutron stars are more difficult to determine. In contrast, even the current spins of stellar-mass black holes are challenging to measure. As we discuss, major inroads have been made in black hole spin estimates via analysis of iron lines and continuum emission, with reasonable agreement when both types of estimate are possible for individual objects, and future X-ray polarization measurements may provide additional independent information. We conclude by exploring the exciting prospects for mass and spin measurements from future gravitational wave detections, which are expected to revolutionize our understanding of strong gravity and compact objects.
    Preview · Article · Aug 2014 · Physics Reports
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    M. Coleman Miller · Frederick K. Lamb
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    ABSTRACT: We have developed sophisticated new Bayesian analysis methods that enable us to estimate quickly the masses and radii of rapidly rotating, oblate neutron stars using the energy-resolved waveforms of their X-ray burst oscillations and to determine the uncertainties in these mass and radius estimates. We demonstrate these methods by generating and analyzing the energy-resolved burst oscillation waveforms that would be produced by a hot spot on various rapidly rotating, oblate stars, using the analytic implementation of the oblate-star Schwarzschild-spacetime (OS) approximation introduced by Morsink et al. 2007. In generating these synthetic data, we assume that 10$^6$ counts have been collected from the hot spot and that the background is $9\times10^6$ counts. This produces a realistic modulation amplitude and a total number of counts comparable to the number that could be obtained by future space missions, by combining data from many bursts from a given star. We compute the joint posterior distribution of the mass $M$ and radius $R_{\rm eq}$ in standard models, for each synthetic waveform, and use these posterior distributions to determine the confidence regions in the $M$-$R_{\rm eq}$ plane for each synthetic waveform and model. We find that OS waveform fits to OS synthetic data determine $M$ and $R_{\rm eq}$ to within 3%-7% for rotation rates $>300$ Hz and spot and observer inclinations $>60^\circ$, uncertainties comparable to those we obtained previously when fitting Schwarzschild+Doppler waveform models to Schwarzschild+Doppler synthetic data. We also find that fitting a model that assumes a uniform-temperature spot to waveforms generated using a spot in which the temperature varies with latitude by 25% does not significantly bias $M$ and $R_{\rm eq}$ estimates.
    Preview · Article · Jul 2014 · The Astrophysical Journal
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    ABSTRACT: We report the recent advances in Relativistic Astrophysics as presented at the GR20 meeting in Warsaw, Poland, in July 2013.
    No preview · Article · May 2014 · General Relativity and Gravitation
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    ABSTRACT: If binaries consisting of two ~100 M ☉ black holes exist, they would serve as extraordinarily powerful gravitational-wave sources, detectable to redshifts of z ~ 2 with the advanced LIGO/Virgo ground-based detectors. Large uncertainties about the evolution of massive stars preclude definitive rate predictions for mergers of these massive black holes. We show that rates as high as hundreds of detections per year, or as low as no detections whatsoever, are both possible. It was thought that the only way to produce these massive binaries was via dynamical interactions in dense stellar systems. This view has been challenged by the recent discovery of several 150 M ☉ stars in the R136 region of the Large Magellanic Cloud. Current models predict that when stars of this mass leave the main sequence, their expansion is insufficient to allow common envelope evolution to efficiently reduce the orbital separation. The resulting black hole-black hole binary remains too wide to be able to coalesce within a Hubble time. If this assessment is correct, isolated very massive binaries do not evolve to be gravitational-wave sources. However, other formation channels exist. For example, the high multiplicity of massive stars, and their common formation in relatively dense stellar associations, opens up dynamical channels for massive black hole mergers (e.g., via Kozai cycles or repeated binary-single interactions). We identify key physical factors that shape the population of very massive black hole-black hole binaries. Advanced gravitational-wave detectors will provide important constraints on the formation and evolution of very massive stars.
    Full-text · Article · Mar 2014 · The Astrophysical Journal
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    Constanze Roedig · Julian H. Krolik · M. Coleman Miller
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    ABSTRACT: Observations indicate that most massive galaxies contain a supermassive black hole, and theoretical studies suggest that when such galaxies have a major merger, the central black holes will form a binary and eventually coalesce. Here we discuss two spectral signatures of such binaries that may help distinguish them from ordinary active galactic nuclei. These signatures are expected when the mass ratio between the holes is not extreme and the system is fed by a circumbinary disk. One such signature is a notch in the thermal continuum that has been predicted by other authors; we point out that it should be accompanied by a spectral revival at shorter wavelengths and also discuss its dependence on binary properties such as mass, mass ratio, and separation. In particular, we note that the wavelength λn at which the notch occurs depends on these three parameters in such a way as to make the number of systems displaying these notches ; longer wavelength searches are therefore strongly favored. A second signature, first discussed here, is hard X-ray emission with a Wien-like spectrum at a characteristic temperature ~100 keV produced by Compton cooling of the shock generated when streams from the circumbinary disk hit the accretion disks around the individual black holes. We investigate the observability of both signatures. The hard X-ray signal may be particularly valuable as it can provide an indicator of black hole merger a few decades in advance of the event.
    Preview · Article · Feb 2014 · The Astrophysical Journal
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    M. Coleman Miller · Sean A. Farrell · Thomas J. Maccarone
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    ABSTRACT: The brightest ultraluminous X-ray source currently known, HLX-1, has been observed to undergo five outburst cycles. The periodicity of these outbursts, and their high inferred maximum accretion rates of ~few × 10–4M ☉ yr–1, naturally suggest Roche lobe overflow at the pericenter of an eccentric orbit. It is, however, difficult for the Roche lobe overflow model to explain the apparent trend of decreasing decay times over the different outbursts while the integrated luminosity also drops. Thus, if the trend is real rather than simply being a reflection of the complex physics of accretion disks, a different scenario may be necessary. We present a speculative model in which, within the last decade, a high-mass giant star had most of its envelope tidally stripped by the ~104 – 5M ☉ black hole in HLX-1, and the remaining core plus low-mass hydrogen envelope now feeds the hole with a strong wind. This model can explain the short decay time of the disk, and could explain the fast decrease in decay time if the wind speed changes with time. A key prediction of this model is that there will be excess line absorption due to the wind; our analysis does in fact find a flux deficit in the ~0.9-1.1 keV range that is consistent with predictions, albeit at low significance. If this idea is correct, we also expect that within years to dacades the bound material from the original disruption will return and will make HLX-1 a persistently bright source.
    Preview · Article · Feb 2014 · The Astrophysical Journal
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    M. Coleman Miller
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    ABSTRACT: Ever since the discovery of neutron stars it has been realized that they serve as probes of a physical regime that cannot be accessed in laboratories: strongly degenerate matter at several times nuclear saturation density. Existing nuclear theories diverge widely in their predictions about such matter. It could be that the matter is primarily nucleons, but it is also possible that exotic species such as hyperons, free quarks, condensates, or strange matter may dominate this regime. Astronomical observations of cold high-density matter are necessarily indirect, which means that we must rely on measurements of quantities such as the masses and radii of neutron stars and their surface effective temperatures as a function of age. Here we review the current status of constraints from various methods and the prospects for future improvements.
    Preview · Article · Nov 2013
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    ABSTRACT: Direct detection of gravitational radiation in the audio band is being pursued with a network of kilometer-scale interferometers (LIGO, Virgo, KAGRA). Several space missions (LISA, DECIGO, BBO) have been proposed to search for sub-Hz radiation from massive astrophysical sources. Here we examine the potential sensitivity of three ground-based detector concepts aimed at radiation in the 0.1 -- 10\,Hz band. We describe the plethora of potential astrophysical sources in this band and make estimates for their event rates and thereby, the sensitivity requirements for these detectors. The scientific payoff from measuring astrophysical gravitational waves in this frequency band is great. Although we find no fundamental limits to the detector sensitivity in this band, the remaining technical limits will be extremely challenging to overcome.
    Full-text · Article · Aug 2013 · Physical Review D
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    M. Coleman Miller · Julian H. Krolik
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    ABSTRACT: Recent studies of accretion onto supermassive black hole binaries suggest that much, perhaps most, of the matter eventually accretes onto one hole or the other. If so, then for binaries whose inspiral from ~1 pc to ~10–3-10–2 pc is driven by interaction with external gas, both the binary orbital axis and the individual black hole spins can be reoriented by angular momentum exchange with this gas. Here we show that, unless the binary mass ratio is far from unity, the spins of the individual holes align with the binary orbital axis in a time ~few-100 times shorter than the binary orbital axis aligns with the angular momentum direction of the incoming circumbinary gas; the spin of the secondary aligns more rapidly than that of the primary by a factor ~(m 1/m 2)1/2 > 1. Thus the binary acts as a stabilizing agent, so that for gas-driven systems, the black hole spins are highly likely to be aligned (or counteraligned if retrograde accretion is common) with each other and with the binary orbital axis. This alignment can significantly reduce the recoil speed resulting from subsequent black hole merger.
    Preview · Article · Jul 2013 · The Astrophysical Journal
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    Ka-Ho Lo · M. Coleman Miller · Sudip Bhattacharyya · Frederick K. Lamb
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    ABSTRACT: Simultaneous, precise measurements of the mass $M$ and radius $R$ of neutron stars can yield uniquely valuable information about the still uncertain properties of cold matter at several times the density of nuclear matter. One method that could be used to measure $M$ and $R$ is to analyze the energy-dependent waveforms of the X-ray flux oscillations seen during some thermonuclear bursts from some neutron stars. These oscillations are thought to be produced by X-ray emission from hotter regions on the surface of the star that are rotating at or near the spin frequency of the star. Here we explore how well $M$ and $R$ could be determined by generating, and analyzing using Bayesian techniques, synthetic energy-resolved X-ray data that we produce assuming a future space mission having 2--30 keV energy coverage and an effective area of 10 m$^2$, such as the proposed \textit{LOFT} or \textit{AXTAR} missions. We find that if the hot spot is within 10$^\circ$ of the rotation equator, both $M$ and $R$ can usually be determined with an uncertainty of about 10% if there are $10^6$ total counts from the spot, whereas waveforms from spots within 20$^\circ$ of the rotation pole provide no useful constraints. These constraints can usually be achieved even if the burst oscillations vary with time and data from multiple bursts must be used to obtain 10$^6$ counts from the hot spot. This is therefore a promising method to constrain $M$ and $R$ tightly enough to discriminate strongly between competing models of cold, high-density matter.
    Preview · Article · Apr 2013 · The Astrophysical Journal
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    Romain Artigue · Didier Barret · Frederick K. Lamb · Ka Ho Lo · M. Coleman Miller
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    ABSTRACT: Precise and accurate measurements of neutron star masses and radii would provide valuable information about the still uncertain properties of cold matter at supranuclear densities. One promising approach to making such measurements involves analysis of the X-ray flux oscillations often seen during thermonuclear (type 1) X-ray bursts. These oscillations are almost certainly produced by emission from hotter regions on the stellar surface modulated by the rotation of the star. One consequence of the rotation is that the oscillation should appear earlier at higher photon energies than at lower energies. Ford (1999) found compelling evidence for such a hard lead in the tail oscillations of one type 1 burst from Aql X-1. We have therefore analyzed individually the oscillations observed in the tails of the four type 1 bursts from 4U 1636-536 that, when averaged, provided the strongest evidence for a soft lead in the analysis by Muno et al. (2003). We have also analyzed the oscillation observed during the superburst from this star. We find that the data from these five bursts, treated both individually and jointly, are fully consistent with a rotating hot spot model. Unfortunately, the uncertainties in these data are too large to provide interesting constraints on the mass and radius of this star.
    Preview · Article · Mar 2013 · Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
  • M. Coleman Miller · Stratos Boutloukos · Ka Ho Lo · Frederick K. Lamb
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    ABSTRACT: Precisely measured neutron star masses and especially radii would provide unique constraints on the properties of cold matter at several times nuclear density. Observations using the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer suggest that such measurements might be possible using thermonuclear X-ray bursts. Here we discuss the prospects for mass and radius constraints, with a particular focus on potential systematic errors.
    No preview · Article · Feb 2013 · Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union
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    ABSTRACT: Interacting galaxies often have complexes of hundreds of young stellar clusters of individual masses ~ 10^{4-6} Msun in regions that are a few hundred parsecs across. These cluster complexes interact dynamically, and their coalescence is a candidate for the origin of some ultracompact dwarf galaxies (UCDs). Individual clusters with short relaxation times are candidates for the production of intermediate-mass black holes of a few hundred solar masses, via runaway stellar collisions prior to the first supernovae in a cluster. It is therefore possible that a cluster complex hosts multiple intermediate-mass black holes that may be ejected from their individual clusters due to mergers or binary processes, but bound to the complex as a whole. Here we explore the dynamical interaction between initially free-flying massive black holes and clusters in an evolving cluster complex. We find that, after hitting some clusters, it is plausible that the massive black hole will be captured in an ultracompact dwarf forming near the center of the complex. In the process, the hole typically triggers electromagnetic flares via stellar disruptions, and is also likely to be a prominent source of gravitational radiation for the advanced ground-based detectors LIGO and VIRGO. We also discuss other implications of this scenario, notably that the central black hole could be considerably larger than expected in other formation scenarios for ultracompact dwarfs.
    Preview · Article · Nov 2012 · The Astrophysical Journal
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    ABSTRACT: Electromagnetic observations over the last 15 years have yielded a growing appreciation for the importance of supermassive black holes (SMBH) to the evolution of galaxies, and for the intricacies of dynamical interactions in our own Galactic center. Here we show that future low-frequency gravitational wave observations, alone or in combination with electromagnetic data, will open up unique windows to these processes. In particular, gravitational wave detections in the 10^{-5}-10^{-1} Hz range will yield SMBH masses and spins to unprecedented precision and will provide clues to the properties of the otherwise undetectable stellar remnants expected to populate the centers of galaxies. Such observations are therefore keys to understanding the interplay between SMBHs and their environments.
    Preview · Article · Nov 2012
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    ABSTRACT: Swift J1626.6-5156 is a Be/X-ray binary that was in outburst from December 2005 until November 2008. We have examined RXTE/PCA and HEXTE spectra of three long observations of this source taken early in its outburst, when the PCA 2-20 keV count rate was >70 counts/s/PCU, as well as several combined observations from different stages of the outburst. The spectra are best fit with an absorbed cutoff power law with a ~6.4 keV iron emission line and a Gaussian optical depth absorption line at ~10 keV. We present strong evidence that this absorption-like feature is a cyclotron resonance scattering feature, making Swift J1626.6-5156 a new candidate cyclotron line source. The redshifted energy of ~10 keV implies a magnetic field strength of ~8.6(1+z) x 10^11 G in the region of the accretion column close to the magnetic poles where the cyclotron line is produced. Analysis of phase averaged spectra spanning the duration of the outburst suggests a possible positive correlation between the fundamental cyclotron energy and source luminosity. Phase resolved spectroscopy from a long observation reveals a variable cyclotron line energy, with phase dependence similar to a variety of other pulsars, as well as the first harmonic of the fundamental cyclotron line.
    Full-text · Article · Nov 2012 · The Astrophysical Journal
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    M. Coleman Miller · Melvyn B. Davies
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    ABSTRACT: Massive black holes have been discovered in all closely examined galaxies with high velocity dispersion. The case is not as clear for lower-dispersion systems such as low-mass galaxies and globular clusters. Here we suggest that above a critical velocity dispersion of roughly 40 km/s, massive central black holes will form in relaxed stellar systems at any cosmic epoch. This is because above this dispersion primordial binaries cannot support the system against deep core collapse. If, as previous simulations show, the black holes formed in the cluster settle to produce a dense subcluster, then given the extremely high densities reached during core collapse the holes will merge with each other. For low velocity dispersions and hence low cluster escape speeds, mergers will typically kick out all or all but one of the holes due to three-body kicks or the asymmetric emission of gravitational radiation. If one hole remains, it will tidally disrupt stars at a high rate. If none remain, one is formed after runaway collisions between stars, then it tidally disrupts stars at a high rate. The accretion rate after disruption is many orders of magnitude above Eddington. If, as several studies suggest, the hole can accept matter at that rate because the generated radiation is trapped and advected, then it will grow quickly and form a massive central black hole.
    Preview · Article · Jun 2012 · The Astrophysical Journal

Publication Stats

4k Citations
636.32 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 2000-2015
    • University of Maryland, College Park
      • Department of Astronomy
      CGS, Maryland, United States
    • Loyola University Maryland
      Baltimore, Maryland, United States
  • 2003-2013
    • Johns Hopkins University
      • Department of Physics and Astronomy
      Baltimore, Maryland, United States
  • 1995-2009
    • University of Chicago
      • Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics
      Chicago, IL, United States
  • 1994-2008
    • University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
      • Department of Physics
      Urbana, Illinois, United States