An illustration of a tidal disruption event in space

A Rare Astronomical Phenomenon Unveiled

Tidal disruption events are remarkable cosmic events that occur when a star drifts too close to a supermassive black hole and falls victim to the black hole's immense gravitational pull.


Astronomers have unveiled a rare astronomical phenomenon in a sensational discovery that allows us to better understand the universe we live in, as they have spotted a fait tidal disruption event. But what exactly are tidal disruption events, or TDEs?

A team of astronomers from China’s University of Science and Technology in Hefei has announced the discovery of an exceptionally faint tidal disruption event (TDE), the most indistinct and proximate optical TDE recorded to date. The study was released on July 10 via the arXiv preprint server.

A Rare Astronomical Phenomenon Unveiled

TDEs are remarkable cosmic events that occur when a star drifts too close to a supermassive black hole and falls victim to the black hole’s immense gravitational pull. This disruption results in stellar debris descending upon the black hole, generating radiation detectable from Earth as a signal of the TDE. For space scientists, TDEs offer critical insights into the strong gravity and accretion physics, and help unravel the formation and evolution of supermassive black holes.


Discovery of a New TDE

Now, under the leadership of Jiazheng Zhu, the group of astronomers has uncovered a new TDE within a nearby star-producing galaxy known as NGC 3799. They primarily utilized the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope network (LCOGT) and NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory to conduct follow-up observations of the initially identified transient source, AT 2023clx. These observations confirmed AT 2023clx as a faint TDE.

The research team reported in their paper: “We discovered a new faint TDE in NGC 3799, a main-sequence star-forming galaxy only approximately 50 Mpc away.” According to their analysis, AT 2023clx’s optical/UV and bolometric light curves exhibit a power-law decay, albeit slower than other faint TDEs. The spectra around the optical peak show a strong blue continuum, with a blackbody temperature of about 12,000 K, and broad Balmer lines intermixed with helium features, similar to other faint TDEs.

A Faint and Close TDE

Moreover, AT 2023clx’s peak blackbody luminosity was determined to be a mere 4.56 tredecillion erg/s, rendering it even more faint than previously detected low-luminosity TDEs. The team also mentioned that AT 2023clx, with a luminosity distance of around 155.8 million light years, is the closest known optical TDE. The host galaxy, NGC 3799, lies approximately 160 million light years away from Earth.


The researchers believe that this rare astronomical phenomenon, AT 2023clx, and its detection will pave the way for future discoveries of similar faint TDEs. They concluded, “This discovery demonstrates a continuous rise in the luminosity function towards the low end, implying more faint TDEs await discovery.”

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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