Identifying Tidal Disruption Events via Prior Photometric Selection of Their Preferred Hosts

K. Decker French, Ann I. Zabludoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A nuclear transient detected in a post-starburst galaxy or other quiescent galaxy with strong Balmer absorption is likely to be a tidal disruption event (TDE). Identifying such galaxies within the planned survey footprint of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) before a transient is detected will make TDE classification immediate and follow-up more efficient. Unfortunately, spectra for identifying most such galaxies are unavailable, and simple photometric selection is ineffective; cutting on "green valley" UV/optical/IR colors produces samples that are highly contaminated and incomplete. Here we propose a new strategy using only photometric optical/UV/IR data from large surveys. Applying a machine-learning random forest classifier to a sample of ∼400,000 SDSS galaxies with Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) photometry, including 13,592 quiescent Balmer-strong galaxies, we achieve 53%-61% purity and 8%-21% completeness, given the range in redshift. For the subset of 1299 post-starburst galaxies, we achieve 63%-73% purity and 5%-12% completeness. Given these results, the range of likely TDE and supernova rates, and that 36%-75% of TDEs occur in quiescent Balmer-strong hosts, we estimate that 13%-99% of transients observed in photometrically selected host galaxies will be TDEs and that we will discover 119-248 TDEs per year with LSST. Using our technique, we present a new catalog of 67,484 candidate galaxies expected to have a high TDE rate, drawn from the SDSS, Pan-STARRS, DES, and WISE photometric surveys. This sample is 3.5× larger than the current SDSS sample of similar galaxies, thereby providing a new path forward for transient science and galaxy evolution studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number99
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • galaxies: active
  • galaxies: evolution
  • methods: observational

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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