A tidal disruption event in the nearby ultra-luminous infrared galaxy F01004-2237

  • Nature Astronomy 1, Article number: 0061 (2017)
  • doi:10.1038/s41550-017-0061
  • Download Citation
Published online:


Tidal disruption events (TDEs), in which stars are gravitationally disrupted as they pass close to the supermassive black holes in the centres of galaxies 1 , are potentially important probes of strong gravity and accretion physics. Most TDEs have been discovered in large-area monitoring surveys of many thousands of galaxies, and a relatively low rate of one event every 104–105 years per galaxy has been deduced 2,​3,​4 . However, given the selection effects inherent in such surveys, considerable uncertainties remain about the conditions that favour TDEs. Here we report the detection of unusually strong and broad helium emission lines following a luminous optical flare in the nucleus of the nearby ultra-luminous infrared galaxy F01004-2237. This particular combination of variabi­lity and post-flare emission line spectrum is unlike any known supernova or active galactic nucleus. The most plausible explanation is a TDE — the first detected in a galaxy with an ongoing massive starburst. The fact that this event has been detected in repeat spectroscopic observations of a sample of 15 ultra-luminous infrared galaxies over a period of just 10 years suggests a much higher rate of TDEs in starburst galaxies than in the general galaxy population.

  • Subscribe to Nature Astronomy for full access:



Additional access options:

Already a subscriber?  Log in  now or  Register  for online access.


  1. 1.

    . Tidal disruption of stars by black holes of 106–108 M in nearby galaxies. Nature 333, 523–528 (1988).

  2. 2.

    , , & Large-amplitude X-ray outbursts from galactic nuclei: a systematic survey using ROSAT archival data. Astron. J. 124, 1308–1321 (2002).

  3. 3.

    et al. UV/optical detections of candidate tidal disruption events by GALEX and CFHTLS. Astrophys. J. 676, 944–969 (2008).

  4. 4.

    & Measurement of the rate of stellar tidal disruption flares. Astrophys. J. 792, 53–61 (2014).

  5. 5.

    & Luminous infrared galaxies. Annu. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 34, 749–792 (1996).

  6. 6.

    , , & The importance of warm, AGN-driven outflows in the nuclear regions nearby ULIRGs. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 432, 138–166 (2013).

  7. 7.

    , & The properties of the stellar populations in ULIRGs – I. Sample, data and spectral synthesis modeling. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 400, 1139–1180 (2009).

  8. 8.

    et al. The dynamical properties of ultraluminous infrared galaxies II. Tracers of dynamical evolution and end products of local ultraluminous mergers. Astrophys. J. 651, 835–852 (2006).

  9. 9.

    , & The detection of Wolf–Rayet stars in a very powerful far-infrared galaxy: direct evidence for a starburst. Astrophys. J. 326, L45–L49 (1988).

  10. 10.

    , , , & HST/WFPC2 observations of warm ultraluminous infrared galaxies. Astrophys. J. 492, 116–136 (1998).

  11. 11.

    et al. Composite quasar spectra from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Astron. J. 122, 549–564 (2001).

  12. 12.

    et al. First results from the Catalina Real-time Transient Survey. Astrophys. J. 696, 870–884 (2009).

  13. 13.

    et al. VLBI images of 49 radio supernovae in Arp 220. Astrophys. J. 649, 185–193 (2006).

  14. 14.

    et al. The discovery of the first changing look quasar: new insights into the physics and phenomenology of active galactic nucleus. Astrophys. J. 800, 144–153 (2015).

  15. 15.

    et al. A systematic search for changing look quasars in SDSS. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 457, 389–404 (2016).

  16. 16.

    & The production of strong broad He ii emission after the tidal disruption of a main sequence star by a supermassive black hole. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 438, L36–L40 (2014).

  17. 17.

    Profiles and profile ratios in Seyfert I galaxies. Astrophys. J. Suppl. 62, 821–838 (1986).

  18. 18.

    et al. An ultraviolet–optical flare from the tidal disruption of a helium-rich stellar core. Nature 485, 217–220 (2012).

  19. 19.

    et al. A continuum of H- to He-rich tidal disruption events with a preference for E+A galaxies. Astrophys. J. 793, 38–53 (2014).

  20. 20.

    et al. Six months of multiwavelength follow-up of the tidal disruption candidate ASASSN-14li and implied TDE rates from ASAS-SN. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 455, 2918–2935 (2016).

  21. 21.

    & Hydrodynamic simulations to determine the feedding radio of black holes by the tidal disruption of stars: the importance of impact factor and stellar structure. Astrophys. J. 767, 25–39 (2013).

  22. 22.

    et al. The long term evolution of ASASSN-14li. Preprint at (2016).

  23. 23.

    et al. The superluminous transient ASASSN-15lh as a tidal disruption event from a Kerr black hole. Nat. Astron. 1, 0002 (2017).

  24. 24.

    , , & The X-ray through optical fluxes and line strengths of tidal disruption events. Astrophys. J. 827, 3–18 (2016).

  25. 25.

    Abundance anomalies in tidal disruption events. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 458, 127–134 (2016).

  26. 26.

    , & Tidal disruption events prefer unusual host galaxies. Astrophys. J. 818, L21–L26 (2016).

  27. 27.

    & An enhanced rate of tidal disruption in the centrally overdense E+A galaxy NGC3156. Astrophys. J. 825, 14–20 (2016).

  28. 28.

    & Enhanced off-centre tidal disruptions by supermassive black holes in merging galaxies. Astrophys. J. 767, 18–28 (2013).

  29. 29.

    & Prompt tidal disruption of stars as a signature of supermassive black hole coalescence. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 412, 75–80 (2011).

  30. 30.

    , , & Tidal disruption events from supermassive black hole binaries. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 465, 3840–3864 (2017).

Download references


The William Herschel Telescope is operated on the island of La Palma by the Isaac Newton Group in the Spanish Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos of the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canaria. Based on observations made with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, obtained from the Data Archive at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., under NASA contract NAS 5-26555, these observations are associated with program no. 8190. This project made use of data obtained by the Catalina Sky Survey. C.T., R.S., M.R. and P.C. acknowledge financial support from the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council. We thank J. Maund for discussions about the possibility of a supernova origin for the flare.

Author information


  1. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Sheffield, Hounsfield Road, Sheffield S3 7RH, UK

    • C. Tadhunter
    • , R. Spence
    • , M. Rose
    • , J. Mullaney
    •  & P. Crowther


  1. Search for C. Tadhunter in:

  2. Search for R. Spence in:

  3. Search for M. Rose in:

  4. Search for J. Mullaney in:

  5. Search for P. Crowther in:


C.T. and R.S. led the project and the scientific interpretation of the data, and C.T. wrote the text of the paper. M.R. extracted the Catalina Sky Survey light curves and contributed to the general interpretation of the emission line spectra. J.M. and P.C. contributed equally to the analysis and interpretation of the results.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to C. Tadhunter.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Figures 1–2, Supplementary Tables 1–2 and Supplementary