Evidence for the Preferential Disruption of Moderately Massive Stars by Supermassive Black Holes

Brenna Mockler, Angela A. Twum, Katie Auchettl, Sierra Dodd, K. D. French, Jamie A.P. Law-Smith, Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Tidal disruption events (TDEs) provide a unique opportunity to probe the stellar populations around supermassive black holes (SMBHs). By combining light-curve modeling with spectral line information and knowledge about the stellar populations in the host galaxies, we are able to constrain the properties of the disrupted star for three TDEs. The TDEs in our sample have UV spectra, and measurements of the UV N iii to C iii line ratios enabled estimates of the nitrogen-to-carbon abundance ratios for these events. We show that the measured nitrogen line widths are consistent with originating from the disrupted stellar material dispersed by the central SMBH. We find that these nitrogen-to-carbon abundance ratios necessitate the disruption of moderately massive stars (⪆1-2 M o˙). We determine that these moderately massive disruptions are overrepresented by a factor of ⪆102 when compared to the overall stellar population of the post-starburst galaxy hosts. This implies that SMBHs are preferentially disrupting higher mass stars, possibly due to ongoing top-heavy star formation in nuclear star clusters or to dynamical mechanisms that preferentially transport higher mass stars to their tidal radii.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number70
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 10 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Evidence for the Preferential Disruption of Moderately Massive Stars by Supermassive Black Holes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this