Using the Hills Mechanism to Generate Repeating Partial Tidal Disruption Events and ASASSN-14ko

M. Cufari, Eric R. Coughlin, C. J. Nixon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Periodic nuclear transients have been detected with increasing frequency, with one such system - ASASSN-14ko - exhibiting highly regular outbursts on a timescale of 114 ± 1 days. It has been postulated that the outbursts from this source are generated by the repeated partial disruption of a star, but how the star was placed onto such a tightly bound orbit about the supermassive black hole remains unclear. Here we use analytic arguments and three-body integrations to demonstrate that the Hills mechanism, where a binary system is destroyed by the tides of the black hole, can lead to the capture of a star on a ∼114 days orbit and with a pericenter distance that is comparable to the tidal radius of one of the stars within the binary. Thus, Hills capture can produce stars on tightly bound orbits that undergo repeated partial disruption, leading to a viable mechanism for generating not only the outbursts detected from ASASSN-14ko but periodic nuclear transients in general. We also show that the rate of change of the period of the captured star due to gravitational-wave emission is likely too small to produce the observed value for ASASSN-14ko, indicating that in this system there must be additional effects that contribute to the decay of the orbit. In general, however, gravitational-wave emission can be important for limiting the lifetimes of these systems and could produce observable period decay rates in future events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL20
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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