Continuum-fitting the X-Ray Spectra of Tidal Disruption Events

Sixiang Wen*, Peter G. Jonker, Nicholas C. Stone, Ann I. Zabludoff, Dimitrios Psaltis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


We develop a new model for X-ray emission from tidal disruption events (TDEs), applying stationary general relativistic "slim disk" accretion solutions to supermassive black holes (SMBHs) and then ray-Tracing the photon trajectories from the image plane to the disk surface, including gravitational redshift, Doppler, and lensing effects self-consistently. We simultaneously and successfully fit the multi-epoch XMM-Newton X-ray spectra for two TDEs: ASASSN-14li and ASASSN-15oi. We test explanations for the observed, unexpectedly slow X-ray brightening of ASASSN-15oi, including delayed disk formation and variable obscuration by a reprocessing layer. We propose a new mechanism that better fits the data: A "slimming disk" scenario in which accretion onto an edgeon disk slows, reducing the disk height and exposing more X-rays from the inner disk to the sightline over time. For ASASSN-15oi, we constrain the SMBH mass to 4.0+ 10 M 3.1 2.5 6 . For ASASSN-14li, the SMBH mass is 10+ 10 M 7 1 6 , and the spin is >0.3. For both TDEs, our fitted masses are consistent with independent estimates; for ASASSN-14li, application of the external mass constraint narrows our spin constraint to >0.85. The mass accretion rate of ASASSN-14li decays slowly, as t-1.1, perhaps due to inefficient debris circularization. Over 1100 days, its SMBH has accreted δM0.17Me, implying a progenitor star mass of >0.34Me, i.e., no "missing energy problem." For both TDEs, the hydrogen column density declines to the host galaxy plus Milky Way value after a few hundred days, suggesting a characteristic timescale for the depletion or removal of obscuring gas.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number80
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2020

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