A New Population of Mid-infrared-selected Tidal Disruption Events: Implications for Tidal Disruption Event Rates and Host Galaxy Properties

Megan Masterson*, Kishalay De, Christos Panagiotou, Erin Kara, Iair Arcavi, Anna Christina Eilers, Danielle Frostig, Suvi Gezari, Iuliia Grotova, Zhu Liu, Adam Malyali, Aaron M. Meisner, Andrea Merloni, Megan Newsome, Arne Rau, Robert A. Simcoe, Sjoert van Velzen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Most tidal disruption events (TDEs) are currently found in time-domain optical and soft X-ray surveys, both of which are prone to significant obscuration. The infrared (IR), however, is a powerful probe of dust-enshrouded environments; hence, we recently performed a systematic search of NEOWISE mid-IR data for nearby, obscured TDEs within roughly 200 Mpc. We identified 18 TDE candidates in galactic nuclei, using difference imaging to uncover nuclear variability among significant host galaxy emission. These candidates were selected based on the following IR light-curve properties: (1) L W2 ≳ 1042 erg s−1 at peak; (2) fast rise, followed by a slow, monotonic decline; (3) no significant prior variability; and (4) no evidence for active galactic nucleus (AGN) activity in Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) colors. The majority of these sources showed no variable optical counterpart, suggesting that optical surveys indeed miss numerous obscured TDEs. Using narrow-line ionization levels and variability arguments, we identified six sources as possible underlying AGN, yielding a total of 12 TDEs in our gold sample. This gold sample yields a lower limit on the IR-selected TDE rate of (2.0 ± 0.3) × 10−5 galaxy−1 yr−1 ((1.3 ± 0.2) × 10−7 Mpc−3 yr−1), which is comparable to optical and X-ray TDE rates. The IR-selected TDE host galaxies do not show a green valley overdensity nor as a preference for quiescent, Balmer strong galaxies, which are both overrepresented in optical and X-ray TDE samples. This IR-selected sample represents a new population of dusty TDEs that have historically been missed by optical and X-ray surveys and helps alleviate tensions between observed and theoretical TDE rates and the so-called missing energy problem.

Original languageEnglish
Article number211
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Volume961
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2024

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