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Astron. Astrophys. 343, 775-787 (1999)

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The giant X-ray outbursts in NGC 5905 and IC 3599: Follow-up observations and outburst scenarios

Stefanie Komossa 1 and Norbert Bade 2,3

1 Max-Planck-Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik, D-85740 Garching, Germany
2 Hamburger Sternwarte, Gojenbergsweg 112, D-21029 Hamburg, Germany
3 Schwalbenweg 55, D-89081 Ulm, Germany

Received 28 July 1998 / Accepted 4 December 1998


Huge amplitude X-ray outbursts in a few galaxies were reported in the last few years. As one of the exciting possibilities to explain these observations, tidal disruption of a star by a central supermassive black hole has been proposed. In the present paper, we perform a detailed discussion of this and other possible scenarios for the X-ray outburst in NGC 5905, and a comparison of NGC 5905 and IC 3599 in outburst as well as in quiescence. To this end we present (i) a thorough analysis of all ROSAT PSPC X-ray observations of NGC 5905 and new HRI data, (ii) optical photometry of NGC 5905 quasi-simultaneous to the X-ray outburst and on longer terms, (iii) the first post-outburst optical spectra of NGC 5905 and high-resolution post-outburst spectra of IC 3599, and (iv) photoionization models for the high-excitation emission lines that were discovered in the optical outburst spectrum of IC 3599. The investigated outburst models include, besides the tidal disruption event, a supernova in dense medium, an accretion-disk instability, an event of extreme gravitational lensing, the X-ray afterglow of a GRB, and the possibility of a warm-absorbed hidden Seyfert nucleus in the center of the galaxy. The successful models, all involving the presence of a central supermassive black hole, are selected and implications are discussed. The optical spectra of both galaxies in quiescence are carefully examined for signs of permanent low-level Seyfert-activity. Whereas IC 3599 shows several signs of activity, none is revealed for NGC 5905. At present, and among the X-ray bursts, this makes NGC 5905 the only safe candidate for a tidal disruption event in an otherwise non-active galaxy. The physical conditions in the HII emission-line gas are also investigated. We briefly comment on a search for further highly variable objects on the basis of ROSAT observations. Several with factors 10-20 are found; all of them are known to harbour warm absorbers.

Key words: X-rays: galaxies – galaxies: Seyfert – galaxies: quasars: emission lines – galaxies: individual: NGC 5905, IC 3599 – galaxies: active

Send offprint requests to: S. Komossa (skomossa@mpe.mpg.de)

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© European Southern Observatory (ESO) 1999

Online publication: March 1, 1999