Distinguishing Tidal Disruption Events from Impostors

Ann Zabludoff, Iair Arcavi, Stephanie La Massa, Hagai B. Perets, Benny Trakhtenbrot, B. Ashley Zauderer, Katie Auchettl, Jane L. Dai, K. Decker French, Tiara Hung, Erin Kara, Giuseppe Lodato, W. Peter Maksym, Yujing Qin, Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, Nathaniel Roth, Jessie C. Runnoe, Thomas Wevers

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Recent claimed detections of tidal disruption events (TDEs) in multi-wavelength data have opened potential new windows into the evolution and properties of otherwise dormant supermassive black holes (SMBHs) in the centres of galaxies. At present, there are several dozen TDE candidates, which share some properties and differ in others. The range in properties is broad enough to overlap other transient types, such as active galactic nuclei (AGN) and supernovae (SNe), which can make TDE classification ambiguous. A further complication is that “TDE signatures” have not been uniformly observed to similar sensitivities or even targeted across all candidates. This chapter both reviews those events that are unusual relative to other TDEs, including the possibility of TDEs in pre-existing AGN, and summarises those characteristics thought to best distinguish TDEs from continuously accreting AGN, strongly flaring AGN, SNe, and Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRBs), as well as other potential impostors like stellar collisions, “micro-TDEs,” and circumbinary accretion flows. We conclude that multiple observables should be used to classify any one event as a TDE. We also consider the TDE candidate population as a whole, which, for certain host galaxy or SMBH characteristics, is distinguishable statistically from non-TDEs, suggesting that at least some TDE candidates do in fact arise from SMBH-disrupted stars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number54
JournalSpace Science Reviews
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • Active galactic nuclei
  • Gamma-ray bursts
  • Supernovae
  • Tidal Disruption Events

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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