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Swift Special Exhibit

Tidal Disruption Events

Tidal disruption events are a unique probe of supermassive black holes in galaxies that are both too distant to distinguish movement of objects around the black hole and not currently actively accreting gas. In an unexpected development, the tidal disruption event world was revolutionized in 2011 by Swift's discovery of the high-energy transient Sw J1644+57. While initially thought to be an exotic GRB, the long-lived, luminous X-ray and non-thermal radio emission are now widely believed to have resulted from the birth of a relativistic jet triggered by the tidal disruption process.

On March 28, 2011, NASA's Swift detected intense X-ray flares thought to be caused by a black hole devouring a star. In one model, illustrated here, a sun-like star on an eccentric orbit plunges too close to its galaxy's central black hole. About half of the star's mass feeds an accretion disk around the black hole, which in turn powers a particle jet that beams radiation toward Earth. (Credit: NASA/Goddard)

Published: September 2016
Text Reviewed: September 2018