skip to main content

Title: The Process of Stellar Tidal Disruption by Supermassive Black Holes: The First Pericenter Passage
Abstract Tidal disruption events (TDEs) are among the brightest transients in the optical, ultraviolet, and X-ray sky. These flares are set into motion when a star is torn apart by the tidal field of a massive black hole, triggering a chain of events which is – so far – incompletely understood. However, the disruption process has been studied extensively for almost half a century, and unlike the later stages of a TDE, our understanding of the disruption itself is reasonably well converged. In this Chapter, we review both analytical and numerical models for stellar tidal disruption. Starting with relatively simple, order-of-magnitude physics, we review models of increasing sophistication, the semi-analytic “affine formalism,” hydrodynamic simulations of the disruption of polytropic stars, and the most recent hydrodynamic results concerning the disruption of realistic stellar models. Our review surveys the immediate aftermath of disruption in both typical and more unusual TDEs, exploring how the fate of the tidal debris changes if one considers non-main sequence stars, deeply penetrating tidal encounters, binary star systems, and sub-parabolic orbits. The stellar tidal disruption process provides the initial conditions needed to model the formation of accretion flows around quiescent massive black holes, and in some cases may also lead to directly observable emission, for example via shock breakout, gravitational waves or runaway nuclear fusion in deeply plunging TDEs.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Space Science Reviews
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract Stars grazing supermassive black holes (SMBHs) on bound orbits may survive tidal disruption, causing periodic flares. Inspired by the recent discovery of the periodic nuclear transient ASASSN-14ko, a promising candidate for a repeating tidal disruption event (TDE), we study the tidal deformation of stars approaching SMBHs on eccentric orbits. With both analytical and hydrodynamic methods, we show the overall tidal deformation of a star is similar to that in a parabolic orbit provided that the eccentricity is above a critical value. This allows one to make use of existing simulation libraries from parabolic encounters to calculate the mass fallback rate in eccentric TDEs. We find the flare structures of eccentric TDEs show a complicated dependence on both the SMBH mass and the orbital period. For stars orbiting SMBHs with relatively short periods, we predict significantly shorter-lived duration flares than those in parabolic TDEs, which can be used to predict repeating events if the mass of the SMBH can be independently measured. Using an adiabatic mass-loss model, we study the flare evolution over multiple passages, and show the evolved stars can survive many more passages than main-sequence stars. We apply this theoretical framework to the repeating TDE candidate ASASSN-14ko and suggest that its recurrent flares originate from a moderately massive ( M ≳ 1 M ⊙ ), extended (likely ≈10 R ⊙ ), evolved star on a grazing, bound orbit around the SMBH. Future hydrodynamic simulations of multiple tidal interactions will enable realistic models on the individual flare structure and the evolution over multiple flares. 
    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Tidal disruption events (TDEs) provide a unique opportunity to probe the stellar populations around supermassive black holes (SMBHs). By combining light-curve modeling with spectral line information and knowledge about the stellar populations in the host galaxies, we are able to constrain the properties of the disrupted star for three TDEs. The TDEs in our sample have UV spectra, and measurements of the UV Niiito Ciiiline ratios enabled estimates of the nitrogen-to-carbon abundance ratios for these events. We show that the measured nitrogen line widths are consistent with originating from the disrupted stellar material dispersed by the central SMBH. We find that these nitrogen-to-carbon abundance ratios necessitate the disruption of moderately massive stars (≳1–2M). We determine that these moderately massive disruptions are overrepresented by a factor of ≳102when compared to the overall stellar population of the post-starburst galaxy hosts. This implies that SMBHs are preferentially disrupting higher mass stars, possibly due to ongoing top-heavy star formation in nuclear star clusters or to dynamical mechanisms that preferentially transport higher mass stars to their tidal radii.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    A star completely destroyed in a tidal disruption event (TDE) ignites a luminous flare that is powered by the fallback of tidally stripped debris to a supermassive black hole (SMBH) of massM. We analyze two estimates for the peak fallback rate in a TDE, one being the “frozen-in” model, which predicts a strong dependence of the time to peak fallback rate,tpeak, on both stellar mass and age, with 15 days ≲tpeak≲ 10 yr for main sequence stars with masses 0.2 ≤M/M≤ 5 andM= 106M. The second estimate, which postulates that the star is completely destroyed when tides dominate the maximum stellar self-gravity, predicts thattpeakis very weakly dependent on stellar type, withtpeak=23.2±4.0daysM/106M1/2for 0.2 ≤M/M≤ 5, whiletpeak=29.8±3.6daysM/106M1/2for a Kroupa initial mass function truncated at 1.5M. This second estimate also agrees closely with hydrodynamical simulations, while the frozen-in model is discrepant by orders of magnitude. We conclude that (1) the time to peak luminosity in complete TDEs is almost exclusively determined by SMBH mass, and (2) massive-star TDEs power the largest accretion luminosities. Consequently, (a) decades-long extra-galactic outbursts cannot be powered by complete TDEs, including massive-star disruptions, and (b) the most highly super-Eddington TDEs are powered by the complete disruption of massive stars, which—if responsible for producing jetted TDEs—would explain the rarity of jetted TDEs and their preference for young and star-forming host galaxies.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Most stellar evolution models predict that black holes (BHs) should not exist above approximately 50–70M, the lower limit of the pair-instability mass gap. However, recent LIGO/Virgo detections indicate the existence of BHs with masses at and above this threshold. We suggest that massive BHs, including intermediate-mass BHs (IMBHs), can form in galactic nuclei through collisions between stellar-mass BHs and the surrounding main-sequence stars. Considering dynamical processes such as collisions, mass segregation, and relaxation, we find that this channel can be quite efficient, forming IMBHs as massive as 104M. This upper limit assumes that (1) the BHs accrete a substantial fraction of the stellar mass captured during each collision and (2) that the rate at which new stars are introduced into the region near the SMBH is high enough to offset depletion by stellar disruptions and star–star collisions. We discuss deviations from these key assumptions in the text. Our results suggest that BHs in the pair-instability mass gap and IMBHs may be ubiquitous in galactic centers. This formation channel has implications for observations. Collisions between stars and BHs can produce electromagnetic signatures, for example, from X-ray binaries and tidal disruption events. Additionally, formed through this channel, both BHs in the mass gap and IMBHs can merge with the SMBHs at the center of a galactic nucleus through gravitational waves. These gravitational-wave events are extreme- and intermediate-mass ratio inspirals.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract Close encounters between neutron stars and main-sequence stars occur in globular clusters and may lead to various outcomes. Here we study encounters resulting in the tidal disruption of the star. Using N -body models, we predict the typical stellar masses in these disruptions and the dependence of the event rate on the host cluster properties. We find that tidal disruption events occur most frequently in core-collapsed globular clusters and that roughly 25% of the disrupted stars are merger products (i.e., blue straggler stars). Using hydrodynamic simulations, we model the tidal disruptions themselves (over timescales of days) to determine the mass bound to the neutron star and the properties of the accretion disks formed. In general, we find roughly 80%–90% of the initial stellar mass becomes bound to the neutron star following disruption. Additionally, we find that neutron stars receive impulsive kicks of up to about 20 km s −1 as a result of the asymmetry of unbound ejecta; these kicks place these neutron stars on elongated orbits within their host cluster, with apocenter distances well outside the cluster core. Finally, we model the evolution of the (hypercritical) accretion disks on longer timescales (days to years after disruption) to estimate the accretion rate onto the neutron stars and accompanying spin-up. As long as ≳1% of the bound mass accretes onto the neutron star, millisecond spin periods can be attained. We argue the growing numbers of isolated millisecond pulsars observed in globular clusters may have formed, at least in part, through this mechanism. In the case of significant mass growth, some of these neutron stars may collapse to form low-mass (≲3 M ⊙ ) black holes. 
    more » « less