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A fast-rising tidal disruption event from a candidate intermediate-mass black hole

Abstract

Massive black holes (BHs) at the centres of massive galaxies are ubiquitous. The population of BHs within dwarf galaxies, on the other hand, is not yet known. Dwarf galaxies are thought to harbour BHs with proportionally small masses, including intermediate-mass BHs, with masses 102 < MBH < 106 solar masses (M). Identification of these systems has historically relied on the detection of light emitted from accreting gaseous disks close to the BHs. Without this light, they are difficult to detect. Tidal disruption events, the luminous flares produced when a star strays close to a BH and is shredded, are a direct way to probe massive BHs. The rise times of these flares theoretically correlate with the BH mass. Here we present AT 2020neh, a fast-rising tidal disruption event candidate, hosted by a dwarf galaxy. AT 2020neh can be described by the tidal disruption of a main sequence star by a 104.7–105.9M BH. We find the observable rate of fast-rising nuclear transients like AT 2020neh to be low, at 2 × 10−8 events Mpc−3 yr−1. Finding non-accreting BHs in dwarf galaxies is important to determine how prevalent BHs are within these galaxies, and to constrain models of BH formation. AT 2020neh-like events may provide a galaxy-independent method of measuring the masses of intermediate-mass BHs.

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Fig. 1: The nuclear transient AT 2020neh.
Fig. 2: The spectroscopic evolution of AT 2020neh.
Fig. 3: The rise–luminosity distribution of TDEs and FBOTs.
Fig. 4: BH scaling relations including dwarf galaxies.

Data availability

All photometric data are available in Supplementary Table 2 and the spectra of AT 2020neh will be made publicly available to the community via WISeREP96 (https://www.wiserep.org/object/15046).

Code availability

Code used for LRIS and Kast spectra can be accessed here https://github.com/msiebert1/UCSC_spectral_pipeline. Codes used for the reduction of ALFOSC data and spectral calibration routines, alongside those used for the interpolation and fitting of the photometric data canbe accessed here https://github.com/crangus/.

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Acknowledgements

We thank M. Pursiainen for insightful discussions regarding the spectroscopic evolution of this event, and M. Briday for useful instructions regarding the use of PROSPECTOR. C.R.A., J.H., K.A., L.I., C.C., N.K. and R.W. were supported by VILLUM FONDEN Investigator grant (project number 16599). C.R.A., C.G. and L.I. were supported by a VILLUM FONDEN Young Investigator Grant (project number 25501). B.M. acknowledges support from the AAUW Dissertation Fellowship under Swift grant number 80NSSC21K1409. R.J.F., T.H., M.R.S., K.T., S.T. and C.R.-B. were supported in part by NASA grant number 80NSSC20K0953, NSF grant number AST–1815935, the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and by a fellowship from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to R.J.F. E.R.-R. acknowledges support from the Heising-Simons Foundation, Nasa Swift and NICER and NSF (grant numbers AST-1911206 and AST-1852393). S.I.R. has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement number 891744. Parts of this research were supported by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D), through project number CE170100013 and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav) through project number CE170100004. H.P. acknowledges support from the Danish National Research Foundation (grant number DNRF132) and the Hong Kong government (GRF grant numbers HKU27305119 and HKU17304821). M.R.D acknowledges support from the NSERC through grant number RGPIN-2019-06186, the Canada Research Chairs Program, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and the Dunlap Institute at the University of Toronto. D.O.J. is supported by NASA through the NASA Hubble Fellowship grant number HF2-51462.001 awarded by the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., for NASA, under contract number NAS 5-26555. M.R.S. is supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program under grant number. 1842400. D.A.C. acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under grant number DGE1339067. A.G. is supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program under grant number DGE-1746047. A.G. also acknowledges funding from the Center for Astrophysical Surveys Fellowship at UIUC/NCSA and the Illinois Distinguished Fellowship. Some of the data presented herein were obtained at the W. M. Keck Observatory, which is operated as a scientific partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA. The Observatory was made possible by the generous financial support of the W. M. Keck Foundation. We wish to recognize and acknowledge the very important cultural role and reverence that the summit of Maunakea has always had within the indigenous Hawaiian community. We are most fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct observations from this mountain. Based on observations made with the Nordic Optical Telescope, owned in collaboration by the University of Turku and Aarhus University, and operated jointly by Aarhus University, the University of Turku and the University of Oslo, representing Denmark, Finland and Norway, the University of Iceland and Stockholm University at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos, La Palma, Spain, of the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias. Observations were carried out under programme P61-022. A major upgrade of the Kast spectrograph on the Shane 3 m telescope at Lick Observatory was made possible through generous gifts from the Heising-Simons Foundation as well as W. Kast and M. Kast. Research at Lick Observatory is partially supported by a generous gift from Google. This research is based on observations made with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope obtained from the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., under NASA contract number NAS 5–26555. These observations are associated with programme SNAP-16239. We acknowledge the use of public data from the Swift data archive. Based on observations obtained at the international Gemini Observatory (programme numberGN-2020A-DD-111), a programme of NSF’s NOIRLab, which is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation on behalf of the Gemini Observatory partnership: the National Science Foundation (United States), the National Research Council (Canada), the Agencia Nacional de Investigación y Desarrollo (Chile), the Ministerio de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación (Argentina), the Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia, Inovações e Comunicações (Brazil) and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (Republic of Korea). We thank the Director for supporting this programme. Based in part on observations obtained with the Samuel Oschin 48-inch Telescope at the Palomar Observatory as part of the Zwicky Transient Facility project. ZTF is supported by the NSF under grant number AST-1440341 and a collaboration including Caltech, IPAC, the Weizmann Institute for Science, the Oskar Klein Center at Stockholm University, the University of Maryland, the University of Washington, Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron and Humboldt University, Los Alamos National Laboratories, the TANGO Consortium of Taiwan, the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Operations are conducted by the Caltech Optical Observatories (COO), the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) and the University of Washington (UW). The Pan-STARRS1 Surveys (PS1) and the PS1 public science archive have been made possible through contributions by the Institute for Astronomy, the University of Hawaii, the Pan-STARRS Project Office, the Max Planck Society and its participating institutes, the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg, and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, The Johns Hopkins University, Durham University, the University of Edinburgh, the Queen’s University Belfast, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network Incorporated, the National Central University of Taiwan, STScI, NASA under grant number NNX08AR22G issued through the Planetary Science Division of the NASA Science Mission Directorate, NSF grant number AST-1238877, the University of Maryland, Eotvos Lorand University (ELTE), the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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C.R.A. led the overall project and analysis, and wrote the majority of the paper; C.R.A. is also PI of the NOT and Gemini programmes used to collect data. V.F.B. performed the analysis to search for previous variability of the host galaxy, wrote text, made figure 4, and contributed to discussions regarding the link between the BH and host galaxy. B.M. performed the MOSFiT light curve analysis, made extended figure 3 and wrote text. R.J.F. reduced the HST data and observed for the Keck nights; R.J.F. is the PI of the Keck, Lick, and Hubble programmes used to collect data and wrote text, contributed to contributed to discussions regarding interpretation of the object and provided feedback on the manuscript. E.R.-R. contributed to discussions regarding the theoretical interpretation of the event. S.I.R. helped to perform the pPXF fitting of the host galaxy features and contributed to discussions. K.D.F. contributed to discussions regarding the nature of host galaxy and provided extensive feedback on manuscript drafts. K.A. triggered, reduced and analysed the Swift data used and contributed to discussions of the results and observations. K.D.F. also wrote text for the paper and provided comments on the manuscript. H.P. performed part the rate analysis of fast TDEs, contributed to discussions regarding the interpretation of the event and provided feedback on manuscript drafts. H.P. also performed vetting of candidates within the YSE survey. C.G. performed the spectral line profile analysis of the Hα emission, contributed to discussions and provided feedback on manuscript drafts. J.H. contributed to discussions and provided extensive feedback on manuscript drafts. M.R.D. contributed to discussions and performed the initial analysis regarding the rate of fast TDEs within YSE. K.D.A. triggered and reduced radio observations with the Very Large Array, and contributed to the interpretation of the resulting upper limits. G.D. reduced the GMOS spectra. T.H. reduced data, observed and submitted observing proposals for the event. D.O.J. reduced the YSE data for the event and performed PS1 operations for the survey. A.R. analysed and helped to interpret the forced YSE photometry of the event. M.R.S. reduced the LRIS and KAST spectra. K.T. provided manuscript comments and observed with Keck. G.T. observed and reduced the DEIMOS spectrum from Keck. C.M.C., L.D., N.E. and A.G. provided extensive feedback on the manuscript as a junior review panel. L.I., S.T., V.A.V. and Y.Z. also provided comments on the paper. N.A., C.C., N.K. and R.J.W. performed vetting of candidates within the YSE survey. D.A.C. wrote the collaboration software platform YSE-PZ and supported it and the server it runs on. T.J.L.d.B., K.C.C., C.C.L., E.A.M. and C.R-B. performed PS1 operations, including supporting the Pan-STARRS image processing pipeline that provided the initial astrometry and photometry. C.R.A., R.J.F., S.I.R., K.A., H.P., J.H., C.G., L.I., N.A., C.C. and R.W. all performed vetting of candidates within the YSE survey.

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Correspondence to C. R. Angus.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Light curve of AT 2020neh.

The UV-optical light curve of AT 2020neh throughout its observable lifetime. Grey dashed lines mark spectroscopic epochs, the dashed black line marks the peak of optical emission. Limits represent 3 σ upper limits to the flux for each telescope during periods of non-detection. There is an apparent gap in optical data between 40-60 days due to poor weather. AT 2020neh is first detected within YSE (PS1) imaging in the i-band, confirmed by with a g-band detection from ZTF <24 hours later. Pre-explosion monitoring allows for strong constraints to be placed upon the explosion epoch of the transient.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Properties of the host of AT 2020neh.

Top: The Prospector SED fit to the host galaxy photometry. All host photometry meaurements are shown with + / − 1 σ standard deviation uncertainties. Bottom left: Star formation rates vs. stellar masses for field galaxies (shown here is the SDSS spectroscopic sample as grey contours). The hosts of optical TDEs are shown in red (taken from 21). AT 2020neh sits comfortably within the parameter space occupied by other TDEs. Bottom right: A BPT diagram showing the regions where emission line ratios are indicative of ionisation from either an AGN, star formation or a composite of the two (78) The location of AT 2020neh is shown, alongside other optical TDE hosts with host SDSS spectra (21). The position of AT 2020neh inside of the star forming region of the diagram confirms the lack of an AGN component within the host.

Extended Data Fig. 3 MOSFiT modelling of the light curve of AT 2020neh.

Photometry of AT 2020neh in UV-optical bands (offset for clarity) alongside all possible TDE light curves each constructed from the posterior parameter distribution. All photometric measurements are presented with + / − 1 σ standard deviation uncertainties.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–3 and Tables 1 and 2.

Supplementary Data 1

Machine-readable version of Table 1.

Supplementary Data 2

Machine-readable version of Supplementary Table 1.

Supplementary Data 3

Machine-readable version of Supplementary Table 2.

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Angus, C.R., Baldassare, V.F., Mockler, B. et al. A fast-rising tidal disruption event from a candidate intermediate-mass black hole. Nat Astron (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-022-01811-y

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