A luminous X-ray transient in SDSS J143359.16+400636.0: a likely tidal disruption event

Research paper by Murray Brightman, Charlotte Ward, Daniel Stern, Kunal Mooley, Kishalay De, Suvi Gezari, Sjoert Van Velzen, Igor Andreoni, Matthew Graham, Frank J. Masci, Reed Riddle, Jeffry Zolkower

Indexed on: 28 Oct '20Published on: 23 Oct '20Published in: arXiv - Astrophysics - High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena


We present the discovery of a luminous X-ray transient, serendipitously detected by Swift's X-ray Telescope (XRT) on 2020 February 5, located in the nucleus of the galaxy SDSS J143359.16+400636.0 at z=0.099 (luminosity distance $D_{\rm L}=456$ Mpc). The transient was observed to reach a peak luminosity of $\sim10^{44}$ erg s$^{-1}$ in the 0.3--10 keV X-ray band, which was $\sim20$ times more than the peak optical/UV luminosity. Optical, UV, and X-ray lightcurves from the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) and Swift show a decline in flux from the source consistent with $t^{-5/3}$, and observations with NuSTAR and Chandra show a soft X-ray spectrum with photon index $\Gamma=2.9\pm0.1$. The X-ray/UV properties are inconsistent with well known AGN properties and have more in common with known X-ray tidal disruption events (TDE), leading us to conclude that it was likely a TDE. The broadband spectral energy distribution (SED) can be described well by a disk blackbody model with an inner disk temperature of $7.3^{+0.3}_{-0.8}\times10^{5}$ K, with a large fraction ($>40$%) of the disk emission up-scattered into the X-ray band. An optical spectrum taken with Keck/LRIS after the X-ray detection reveals LINER line ratios in the host galaxy, suggesting low-level accretion on to the supermassive black hole prior to the event, but no broad lines or other indications of a TDE were seen. The stellar velocity dispersion implies the mass of the supermassive black hole powering the event is log($M_{\rm BH}$/$M_{\odot}$)$=7.41\pm0.41$, and we estimate that at peak the Eddington fraction of this event was $\sim$50%. This likely TDE was not identified by wide-field optical surveys, nor optical spectroscopy, indicating that more events like this would be missed without wide-field UV or X-ray surveys.