The Tidal Disruption Event AT2021ehb: Evidence of Relativistic Disk Reflection, and Rapid Evolution of the Disk-Corona System

Yuhan Yao, Wenbin Lu, Muryel Guolo, Dheeraj R. Pasham, Suvi Gezari, Marat Gilfanov, Keith C. Gendreau, Fiona Harrison, S. Bradley Cenko, S. R. Kulkarni, Jon M. Miller, Dominic J. Walton, Javier A. García, Sjoert van Velzen, Kate D. Alexander, James C. A. Miller-Jones, Matt Nicholl, Erica Hammerstein, Pavel Medvedev, Daniel SternVikram Ravi, R. Sunyaev, Joshua S. Bloom, Matthew J. Graham, Erik C. Kool, Ashish A. Mahabal, Frank J. Masci, Josiah Purdum, Ben Rusholme, Yashvi Sharma, Roger Smith, Jesper Sollerman

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We present X-ray, UV, optical, and radio observations of the nearby ($\approx78$ Mpc) tidal disruption event (TDE) AT2021ehb/ZTF21aanxhjv during its first 430 days of evolution. AT2021ehb occurs in the nucleus of a galaxy hosting a $\approx 10^{7}\,M_\odot$ black hole ($M_{\rm BH}$ inferred from host galaxy scaling relations). High-cadence Swift and NICER monitoring reveals a delayed X-ray brightening. The spectrum first undergoes a gradual ${\rm soft }\rightarrow{\rm hard}$ transition and then suddenly turns soft again within 3 days at $\delta t\approx 272$ days during which the X-ray flux drops by a factor of ten. In the joint NICER+NuSTAR observation ($\delta t =264$ days, harder state), we observe a prominent non-thermal component up to 30 keV and an extremely broad emission line in the iron K band. The bolometric luminosity of AT2021ehb reaches a maximum of $6.0^{+10.4}_{-3.8}\% L_{\rm Edd}$ when the X-ray spectrum is the hardest. During the dramatic X-ray evolution, no radio emission is detected, the UV/optical luminosity stays relatively constant, and the optical spectra are featureless. We propose the following interpretations: (i) the ${\rm soft }\rightarrow{\rm hard}$ transition may be caused by the gradual formation of a magnetically dominated corona; (ii) hard X-ray photons escape from the system along solid angles with low scattering optical depth ($\sim\,$a few) whereas the UV/optical emission is likely generated by reprocessing materials with much larger column density -- the system is highly aspherical; (iii) the abrupt X-ray flux drop may be triggered by the thermal-viscous instability in the inner accretion flow leading to a much thinner disk.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages25
JournalThe Astrophysical Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2022


  • astro-ph.HE


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