On the relative importance of shocks and self-gravity in modifying tidal disruption event debris streams

Julia Fancher, Eric R. Coughlin, C. J. Nixon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In a tidal disruption event (TDE), a star is destroyed by the gravitational field of a supermassive black hole (SMBH) to produce a stream of debris, some of which accretes onto the SMBH and creates a luminous flare. The distribution of mass along the stream has a direct impact on the accretion rate, and thus modelling the time-dependent evolution of this distribution provides insight into the relevant physical processes that drive the observable properties of TDEs. Analytic models that only account for the ballistic evolution of the debris do not capture salient and time-dependent features of the mass distribution, suggesting that fluid dynamical effects significantly modify the debris dynamics. Previous investigations have claimed that shocks are primarily responsible for these modifications, but here we show-with high-resolution hydrodynamical simulations-that self-gravity is the dominant physical mechanism responsible for the anomalous (i.e. not predicted by ballistic models) debris stream features and its time dependence. These high-resolution simulations also show that there is a specific length-scale on which self-gravity modifies the debris mass distribution, and as such there is enhanced power in specific Fourier modes. Our results have implications for the stability of the debris stream under the influence of self-gravity, particularly at late times and the corresponding observational signatures of TDEs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2323-2330
Number of pages8
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2023


  • black hole physics
  • galaxies: nuclei
  • hydrodynamics
  • transients: Tidal disruption events

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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