Live to Die Another Day: The Rebrightening of AT 2018fyk as a Repeating Partial Tidal Disruption Event

T. Wevers, E. R. Coughlin, D. R. Pasham, M. Guolo, Y. Sun, S. Wen, P. G. Jonker, A. Zabludoff, A. Malyali, R. Arcodia, Z. Liu, A. Merloni, A. Rau, I. Grotova, P. Short, Z. Cao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations

Abstract

Stars that interact with supermassive black holes (SMBHs) can be either completely or partially destroyed by tides. In a partial tidal disruption event (TDE), the high-density core of the star remains intact, and the low-density outer envelope of the star is stripped and feeds a luminous accretion episode. The TDE AT 2018fyk, with an inferred black hole mass of 107.7±0.4 M , experienced an extreme dimming event at X-ray (factor of >6000) and UV (factor of ∼15) wavelengths ∼500-600 days after discovery. Here we report on the reemergence of these emission components roughly 1200 days after discovery. We find that the source properties are similar to those of the predimming accretion state, suggesting that the accretion flow was rejuvenated to a similar state. We propose that a repeated partial TDE, where the partially disrupted star is on an ∼1200 day orbit about the SMBH and periodically stripped of mass during each pericenter passage, powers its unique light curve. This scenario provides a plausible explanation for AT 2018fyk’s overall properties, including the rapid dimming event and the rebrightening at late times. We also provide testable predictions for the behavior of the accretion flow in the future; if the second encounter was also a partial disruption, then we predict another strong dimming event around day 1800 (2023 August) and a subsequent rebrightening around day 2400 (2025 March). This source provides strong evidence of the partial disruption of a star by an SMBH.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Volume942
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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