Repeating tidal disruptions in GSN 069: Long-term evolution and constraints on quasi-periodic eruptions’ models

G. Miniutti, M. Giustini, R. Arcodia, R. D. Saxton, A. M. Read, S. Bianchi and K. D. Alexander. Repeating tidal disruptions in GSN 069: Long-term evolution and constraints on quasi-periodic eruptions’ models. A&A, 670 (2023) A93. DOI:

Context. GSN 069 is the first galactic nucleus where quasi-periodic eruptions (QPEs) have been identified in December 2018. These are high-amplitude, soft X-ray bursts recurring every ∼9 h, lasting ∼1 h, and during which the X-ray count rate increases by up to two orders of magnitude with respect to an otherwise stable quiescent level. The X-ray spectral properties and the long-term evolution of GSN 069 in the first few years since its first X-ray detection in 2010 are consistent with a long-lived tidal disruption event (TDE).

Aims. We aim to derive the properties of QPEs and of the long-term X-ray evolution in GSN 069 over the past 12 yr.

Methods. We analyse timing and spectral X-ray data from 11 XMM-Newton, one Chandra, and 34 Swift observations of GSN 069 on timescales ranging from minutes to years.

Results. QPEs in GSN 069 are a transient phenomenon with a lifetime of ≳1.05 yr. The QPE intensity and recurrence time oscillate and allow for alternating strong-weak QPEs and long-short recurrence times to be defined. In observations with QPEs, the quiescent level exhibits a quasi-periodic oscillation with a period equal to the average separation between consecutive QPEs. The QPE spectral evolution is consistent with thermal emission from a very compact region that heats up quickly and subsequently cools down via X-ray emission while expanding by a factor of ∼3 in radius. The long-term evolution of the quiescent level is characterised by two repeating TDEs ∼9 yr apart. We detect a precursor X-ray flare prior to the second TDE that may be associated with the circularisation phase during disc formation. A similar precursor flare is tentatively detected just before the first TDE.

Conclusions. We provide a comprehensive summary of observational results that can be used to inform further theoretical and numerical studies on the origin of QPEs in GSN 069 and we discuss our results in terms of currently proposed QPE models. Future X-ray observations of GSN 069 promise that the QPE origin and the relation between QPEs and repeating TDEs in this galactic nucleus will be constrained, with consequences for the other sources where QPEs have been identified.

Key words: galaxies: nuclei / galaxies: individual: GSN 069 / accretion, accretion disks / black hole physics / X-rays: individuals: GSN 069

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