On the structure of tidally disrupted stellar debris streams

Eric R. Coughlin, Chris Nixon, Mitchell C. Begelman, Philip J. Armitage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


A tidal disruption event (TDE) - when a star is destroyed by the immense gravitational field of a supermassive black hole - transforms a star into a stream of tidally shredded debris. The properties of this debris ultimately determine the observable signatures of tidal disruption events (TDEs). Here we derive a simple, self-similar solution for the velocity profile of the debris streams produced from TDEs, and show that this solution agrees extremely well with numerical results. Using this self-similar solution, we calculate an analytic, approximate expression for the radial density profile of the stream. We show that there is a critical adiabatic index that varies as a function of position along the stream above (below) which the stream is unstable (stable) to gravitational fragmentation. We also calculate the impact of heating and cooling on this stability criterion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3089-3103
Number of pages15
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Black hole physics
  • Galaxies: nuclei
  • Gravitation
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Stars: general

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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