Continuum-fitting the X-ray spectra of tidal disruption events

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 edge-on 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+2-3.51 × 106M⊙. For ASASSN-14li, the SMBH mass is 10+1-7 × 106M⊙ 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 ∆M ≈ 0.17M⊙, implying a progenitor star mass of > 0.34M⊙, 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 languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Mar 27 2020


  • Accretion (14)
  • Black hole physics (159)
  • Supermassive black holes (1663)
  • Tidal disruption (1696)
  • X-ray transient sources (1852)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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