skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 5:00 PM ET until 11:00 PM ET on Friday, June 21 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Title: Dynamical Unification of Tidal Disruption Events

The ∼100 tidal disruption events (TDEs) observed so far exhibit a wide range of emission properties both at peak and over their lifetimes. Some TDEs radiate predominantly at X-ray energies, while others radiate chiefly at UV and optical wavelengths. While the peak luminosities across TDEs show distinct properties, the evolutionary behavior can also vary between TDEs with similar peak emission properties. In particular, for optical TDEs, while their UV and optical emissions decline somewhat following the fallback pattern, some events can greatly rebrighten in X-rays at late time. In this Letter, we conduct three-dimensional general relativistic radiation magnetohydrodynamics simulations of TDE accretion disks at varying accretion rates in the regime of super-Eddington accretion. We make use of Monte Carlo radiative transfer simulations to calculate the reprocessed spectra at various inclinations and at different evolutionary stages. We confirm the unified model proposed by Dai et al., which predicts that the observed emission largely depends on the viewing angle of the observer with respect to the disk orientation. Furthermore, we find that disks with higher accretion rates have elevated wind and disk densities, which increases the reprocessing of the high-energy radiation and thus generally augments the optical-to-X-ray flux ratio along a particular viewing angle. This implies that at later times, as the accretion level declines, we expect that more X-rays will leak out along intermediate viewing angles. Such dynamical model for TDEs can provide a natural explanation for the diversity in the emission properties observed in TDEs at peak and along their temporal evolution.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
1911206 2206243
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
DOI PREFIX: 10.3847
Date Published:
Journal Name:
The Astrophysical Journal Letters
Medium: X Size: Article No. L28
["Article No. L28"]
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Aims. The modelling of spectroscopic observations of tidal disruption events (TDEs) to date suggests that the newly formed accretion disks are mostly quasi-circular. In this work we study the transient event AT 2020zso, hosted by an active galactic nucleus (AGN; as inferred from narrow emission line diagnostics), with the aim of characterising the properties of its newly formed accretion flow. Methods. We classify AT 2020zso as a TDE based on the blackbody evolution inferred from UV/optical photometric observations and spectral line content and evolution. We identify transient, double-peaked Bowen (N  III ), He  I , He  II, and H α emission lines. We model medium-resolution optical spectroscopy of the He  II (after careful de-blending of the N  III contribution) and H α lines during the rise, peak, and early decline of the light curve using relativistic, elliptical accretion disk models. Results. We find that the spectral evolution before the peak can be explained by optical depth effects consistent with an outflowing, optically thick Eddington envelope. Around the peak, the envelope reaches its maximum extent (approximately 10 15 cm, or ∼3000–6000 gravitational radii for an inferred black hole mass of 5−10 × 10 5 M ⊙ ) and becomes optically thin. The H α and He  II emission lines at and after the peak can be reproduced with a highly inclined ( i  = 85 ± 5 degrees), highly elliptical ( e  = 0.97 ± 0.01), and relatively compact ( R in = several 100 R g and R out = several 1000 R g ) accretion disk. Conclusions. Overall, the line profiles suggest a highly elliptical geometry for the new accretion flow, consistent with theoretical expectations of newly formed TDE disks. We quantitatively confirm, for the first time, the high inclination nature of a Bowen (and X-ray dim) TDE, consistent with the unification picture of TDEs, where the inclination largely determines the observational appearance. Rapid line profile variations rule out the binary supermassive black hole hypothesis as the origin of the eccentricity; these results thus provide a direct link between a TDE in an AGN and the eccentric accretion disk. We illustrate for the first time how optical spectroscopy can be used to constrain the black hole spin, through (the lack of) disk precession signatures (changes in inferred inclination). We constrain the disk alignment timescale to > 15 days in AT2020zso, which rules out high black hole spin values ( a  < 0.8) for M BH  ∼ 10 6 M ⊙ and disk viscosity α  ≳ 0.1. 
    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    We present fully relativistic predictions for the electromagnetic emission produced by accretion disks surrounding spinning and nonspinning supermassive binary black holes on the verge of merging. We use the codeBothrosto post-process data from 3D general relativistic magnetohydrodynamic simulations via ray-tracing calculations. These simulations model the dynamics of a circumbinary disk and the mini-disks that form around two equal-mass black holes orbiting each other at an initial separation of 20 gravitational radii, and evolve the system for more than 10 orbits in the inspiral regime. We model the emission as the sum of thermal blackbody radiation emitted by an optically thick accretion disk and a power-law spectrum extending to hard X-rays emitted by a hot optically thin corona. We generate time-dependent spectra, images, and light curves at various frequencies to investigate intrinsic periodic signals in the emission, as well as the effects of the black hole spin. We find that prograde black hole spin makes mini-disks brighter since the smaller innermost stable circular orbit angular momentum demands more dissipation before matter plunges to the horizon. However, compared to mini-disks in larger separation binaries with spinning black holes, our mini-disks are less luminous: unlike those systems, their mass accretion rate is lower than in the circumbinary disk, and they radiate with lower efficiency because their inflow times are shorter. Compared to a single black hole system matched in mass and accretion rate, these binaries have spectra noticeably weaker and softer in the UV. Finally, we discuss the implications of our findings for the potential observability of these systems.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    We present a toy model for the thermal optical/UV/X-ray emission from tidal disruption events (TDEs). Motivated by recent hydrodynamical simulations, we assume that the debris streams promptly and rapidly circularize (on the orbital period of the most tightly bound debris), generating a hot quasi-spherical pressure-supported envelope of radiusRv∼ 1014cm (photosphere radius ∼1015cm) surrounding the supermassive black hole (SMBH). As the envelope cools radiatively, it undergoes Kelvin–Helmholtz contractionRvt−1, its temperature risingTefft1/2while its total luminosity remains roughly constant; the optical luminosity decays asνLνRv2Tefft3/2. Despite this similarity to the mass fallback rateṀfbt5/3, envelope heating from fallback accretion is subdominant compared to the envelope cooling luminosity except near optical peak (where they are comparable). Envelope contraction can be delayed by energy injection from accretion from the inner envelope onto the SMBH in a regulated manner, leading to a late-time flattening of the optical/X-ray light curves, similar to those observed in some TDEs. Eventually, as the envelope contracts to near the circularization radius, the SMBH accretion rate rises to its maximum, in tandem with the decreasing optical luminosity. This cooling-induced (rather than circularization-induced) delay of up to several hundred days may account for the delayed onset of thermal X-rays, late-time radio flares, and high-energy neutrino generation, observed in some TDEs. We compare the model predictions to recent TDE light-curve correlation studies, finding both agreement and points of tension.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Active galactic nuclei (AGN) light curves observed with different wave bands show that the variability in longer wavelength bands lags the variability in shorter wavelength bands. Measuring these lags, or reverberation mapping, is used to measure the radial temperature profile and extent of AGN disks, typically with a reprocessing model that assumes X-rays are the main driver of the variability in other wavelength bands. To demonstrate how this reprocessing works with realistic accretion disk structures, we use 3D local shearing box multifrequency radiation magnetohydrodynamic simulations to model the UV-emitting region of an AGN disk, which is unstable to the magnetorotational instability and convection. At the same time, we inject hard X-rays (>1 keV) into the simulation box to study the effects of X-ray irradiation on the local properties of the turbulence and the resulting variability of the emitted UV light curve. We find that disk turbulence is sufficient to drive intrinsic variability in emitted UV light curves and that a damped random walk model is a good fit to this UV light curve for timescales >5 days. Meanwhile, X-ray irradiation has negligible impact on the power spectrum of the emitted UV light curve. Furthermore, the injected X-ray and emitted UV light curves are only correlated if there is X-ray variability on timescales >1 day, in which case we find a correlation coefficientr= 0.34. These results suggest that if the opacity for hard X-rays is scattering dominated as in the standard disk model, hard X-rays are not the main driver of reverberation signals.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract Tidal disruption events (TDEs) offer a unique way to study dormant black holes. While the number of observed TDEs has grown thanks to the emergence of wide-field surveys in the past few decades, questions regarding the nature of the observed optical, UV, and X-ray emission remain. We present a uniformly selected sample of 30 spectroscopically classified TDEs from the Zwicky Transient Facility Phase I survey operations with follow-up Swift UV and X-ray observations. Through our investigation into correlations between light-curve properties, we recover a shallow positive correlation between the peak bolometric luminosity and decay timescales. We introduce a new spectroscopic class of TDE, TDE-featureless, which are characterized by featureless optical spectra. The new TDE-featureless class shows larger peak bolometric luminosities, peak blackbody temperatures, and peak blackbody radii. We examine the differences between the X-ray bright and X-ray faint populations of TDEs in this sample, finding that X-ray bright TDEs show higher peak blackbody luminosities than the X-ray faint subsample. This sample of optically selected TDEs is the largest sample of TDEs from a single survey yet, and the systematic discovery, classification, and follow-up of this sample allows for robust characterization of TDE properties, an important stepping stone looking forward toward the Rubin era. 
    more » « less