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Astronomers Get Closer to Understanding Nearest "Cosmic Cataclysm" with New Observations

Intriguing details emerge about the closest ever observed tidal disruption event (TDE), where a star is ripped apart by a supermassive black hole.

Key takeaways

  1. New observations of AT 2023clx, the closest TDE to Earth, reveal significant insights into its properties.

  2. The event involved the disruption of a very low-mass star around a million-solar-mass black hole.

  3. AT 2023clx is unique due to its fast rise, faint luminosity, and presence of a rare spectral feature.

  4. Findings contribute to a better understanding of TDEs and their role in the universe.


SDSS image of host galaxy NGC 3799, before the transient occurred. The nucleus of the galaxy where the TDE happened is marked with a green cross and is also shown in a zoomed-in inset in the top right corner. Credit: arXiv (2024). DOI: 10.48550/arxiv.2401.11773
SDSS image of host galaxy NGC 3799, before the transient occurred. The nucleus of the galaxy where the TDE happened is marked with a green cross and is also shown in a zoomed-in inset in the top right corner. Credit: arXiv (2024). DOI: 10.48550/arxiv.2401.11773

Imagine a star venturing too close to a supermassive black hole, its fate sealed by the black hole's immense gravitational pull. This is a tidal disruption event (TDE), a rare and violent cosmic phenomenon. Now, astronomers have gained unprecedented insights into AT 2023clx, the closest TDE ever observed, located a mere 155.8 million light-years away.


Using a multitude of telescopes, researchers conducted extensive observations in various wavelengths, painting a clearer picture of this cosmic drama. Key findings include:

  • Intermediate luminosity: While initially classified as faint, AT 2023clx exhibits an intermediate luminosity, suggesting the disrupted star was more massive than previously thought.


  • Fastest rising TDE: The event reached its peak in a record-breaking 10.4 days, hinting at the disruption of an exceptionally low-mass star (less than 0.1 solar masses).

  • Unique spectral signature: Observations revealed a never-before-seen sharp emission peak, providing valuable clues about the disruption process.


By studying AT 2023clx, astronomers are unraveling the mysteries of TDEs, shedding light on their diverse nature and the stars they involve. This newfound knowledge deepens our understanding of the evolution of galaxies and the role of supermassive black holes within them.


Future observations of AT 2023clx and other TDEs will continue to refine our understanding of these cosmic events. With each discovery, we inch closer to unlocking the secrets of these powerful stellar shreddings and their impact on the universe.

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