The Tidal Disruption of Stars by Massive Black Holes

New Topical Collection published in Space Science Reviews (partial Open Access)

A new collection of 14 review articles has been completed and is available online in Space Science Reviews, a printed book version will be published as volume 79 of the Space Sciences Series of ISSI.

For several decades, astronomers have speculated that a hapless star could wander too close to a super massive black hole (SMBH) and be torn apart by tidal forces. It is only with the recent advent of numerous wide-field transient surveys that such events have been detected in the form of giant-amplitude, luminous flares of electromagnetic radiation from the centers of otherwise quiescent galaxies. These discoveries span the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from γ-rays through X-rays, ultra-violet, optical, infrared, and radio. A small number of events launch relativistic jets. These tidal disruption events (TDEs) have caused widespread excitement as they can be used to study the properties of quiescent, otherwise undetectable, SMBHs; the populations and dynamics of stars in galactic nuclei; the physics of black hole accretion including the potential to detect relativistic effects near the SMBH; and the physics of (radio) jet formation and evolution in a pristine environment. For scientific questions concerning quiescent SMBHs, TDEs are unique probes beyond the local universe. TDEs can also occur around active galactic nuclei (AGNs), although uniquely identifying such an event on top of a bright AGN is difficult.

Currently, the diverse emission properties of flares associated with TDEs is not fully understood. This challenge is being addressed by a sharp increase in observational work and theoretical modelling. Over the next few years, the largest growth areas will likely be in the greatly expanded surveys of the transient sky, and in new numerical modeling techniques. Together these will reveal how SMBHs shine by ripping apart orbiting stars and swallowing the stellar debris.

In light of this foreseen growth, many new researchers are expected to enter the field. Therefore, the time was deemed ripe to compose a comprehensive overview of the state of the art in this rapidly-evolving field. This topical collection was planned and launched at a workshop held at the International Space Science Institute (ISSI) in Bern on 8–12 October, 2018.

The editors would like to thank all authors and coordinators for their hard work in creating this collection, the staff at ISSI for their friendly and generous support, and the future readers of this topical collection who will no doubt answer many of the TDE puzzles that so far remain unresolved.

Peter G. Jonker, Iair Arcavi, E. Sterl Phinney, Elena M. Rossi, Nicholas C. Stone & Sjoert van Velzen (Guest Editors)


Introductory Article: 
Peter G. Jonker, Iair Arcavi, E. Sterl Phinney, Elena M. Rossi, Nicholas C. Stone & Sjoert van Velzen. Editorial to the Topical Collection: The Tidal Disruption of Stars by Massive Black Holes. Space Sci Rev 217, 62 (2021).

Complete Topical Collection in Space Science Reviews >>