A very luminous jet from the disruption of a star by a massive black hole
Tidal disruption events (TDEs) are bursts of electromagnetic energy that are released when supermassive black holes at the centres of galaxies violently disrupt a star that passes too close1. TDEs provide a window through which to study accretion onto supermassive black holes; in some rare cases, this accretion leads to launching of a relativistic jet2-9, but the necessary conditions are not fully understood. The best-studied jetted TDE so far is Swift J1644+57, which was discovered in γ-rays, but was too obscured by dust to be seen at optical wavelengths. Here we report the optical detection of AT2022cmc, a rapidly fading source at cosmological distance (redshift z = 1.19325) the unique light curve of which transitioned into a luminous plateau within days. Observations of a bright counterpart at other wavelengths, including X-ray, submillimetre and radio, supports the interpretation of AT2022cmc as a jetted TDE containing a synchrotron `afterglow', probably launched by a supermassive black hole with spin greater than approximately 0.3. Using four years of Zwicky Transient Facility10 survey data, we calculate a rate of 0.0 2−0.01+0.04 Gpc−3 yr−1 for on-axis jetted TDEs on the basis of the luminous, fast-fading red component, thus providing a measurement complementary to the rates derived from X-ray and radio observations11. Correcting for the beaming angle effects, this rate confirms that approximately 1 per cent of TDEs have relativistic jets. Optical surveys can use AT2022cmc as a prototype to unveil a population of jetted TDEs.
- Pub Date:
- December 2022
- Astrophysics - High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena
- Accepted for publication in Nature