A bright year for tidal disruptions

Brian D. Metzger*, Nicholas C. Stone

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

190 Scopus citations


When a star is tidally disrupted by a supermassive black hole (SMBH), roughly half of its mass falls back to the SMBH at super-Eddington rates. As this gas is tenuously gravitationally bound and unable to cool radiatively, only a small fraction fin ≪ 1 may accrete, with the majority instead becoming unbound in an outflow of velocity ~104 km s-1. The outflow spreads laterally as it expands to large radii, encasing the SMBH and blocking the inner disc's EUV/X-ray radiation, which becomes trapped in a radiation-dominated nebula. Ionizing nebular radiation heats the inner edge of the ejecta, converting the emission to optical/near-UV wavelengths where photons more readily escape due to the lower opacity. This can explain the unexpectedly low and temporally constant effective temperatures of optically discovered tidal disruption event (TDE) flares. For high-mass SMBHs, M ≳ 107M, the ejecta can become fully ionized at an earlier stage, or for a wider range of viewing angles, producing a TDE flare accompanied by thermal X-ray emission. The peak optical luminosity is suppressed as the result of adiabatic losses in the inner disc wind when M ≪ 107M, possibly contributing to the unexpected dearth of optical TDEs in galaxies with low-mass SMBHs. In the classical picture, where fin ≈ 1, TDEs de-spin supermassive SMBHs and cap their maximum spins well below theoretical accretion physics limits. This cap is relaxed in our model, and existing Fe Ka spin measurements provide preliminary evidence that fin < 1.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)948-966
Number of pages19
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 The Authors Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Society.


  • Accretion, accretion discs
  • Galaxies: active
  • Galaxies: nuclei -X-rays: galaxies


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