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Abstract

The concept of stars being tidally ripped apart and consumed by a massive black hole (MBH) lurking in the center of a galaxy first captivated theorists in the late 1970s. The observational evidence for these rare but illuminating phenomena for probing otherwise dormant MBHs first emerged in archival searches of the soft X-ray ROSAT All-Sky Survey in the 1990s, but has recently accelerated with the increasing survey power in the optical time domain, with tidal disruption events (TDEs) now regarded as a class of optical nuclear transients with distinct spectroscopic features. Multiwavelength observations of TDEs have revealed panchromatic emission, probing a wide range of scales, from the innermost regions of the accretion flow to the surrounding circumnuclear medium. I review the current census of 56 TDEs reported in the literature, and their observed properties can be summarized as follows:

  • ▪   The optical light curves follow a power-law decline from peak that scales with the inferred central black hole mass as expected for the fallback rate of the stellar debris, but the rise time does not.
  • ▪   The UV-optical and soft X-ray thermal emission come from different spatial scales, and their intensity ratio has a large dynamic range and is highly variable, providing important clues as to what is powering the two components.
  • ▪   They can be grouped into three spectral classes, and those with Bowen fluorescence line emission show a preference for a hotter and more compact line-emitting region, whereas those with only He emission lines are the rarest class.

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2021-09-08
2024-06-19
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