Lense–Thirring precession after a supermassive black hole disrupts a star

Dheeraj R. Pasham, Michal Zajaček, C. J. Nixon, Eric R. Coughlin, Marzena Śniegowska, Agnieszka Janiuk, Bożena Czerny, Thomas Wevers, Muryel Guolo, Yukta Ajay, Michael Loewenstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An accretion disk formed around a supermassive black hole after it disrupts a star is expected to be initially misaligned with respect to the equatorial plane of the black hole. This misalignment induces relativistic torques (the Lense–Thirring effect) on the disk, causing the disk to precess at early times, whereas at late times the disk aligns with the black hole and precession terminates1,2. Here we report, using high-cadence X-ray monitoring observations of a tidal disruption event (TDE), the discovery of strong, quasi-periodic X-ray flux and temperature modulations. These X-ray modulations are separated by roughly 15 days and persist for about 130 days during the early phase of the TDE. Lense–Thirring precession of the accretion flow can produce this X-ray variability, but other physical mechanisms, such as the radiation-pressure instability3,4, cannot be ruled out. Assuming typical TDE parameters, that is, a solar-like star with the resulting disk extending at most to the so-called circularization radius, and that the disk precesses as a rigid body, we constrain the disrupting dimensionless spin parameter of the black hole to be 0.05 ≲ ∣a∣ ≲ 0.5.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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