"Spoon-feeding" an AGN

Tidal disruption events (TDEs) occur when a star, passing too close to a massive black hole, is ripped apart by tidal forces. A less dramatic event occurs if the star orbits just outside the tidal radius, resulting in a mild stripping of mass. Thus, if a star orbits a central black hole on one of these bound eccentric orbits, weaker outbursts will occur recurring every orbital period. Thanks to five Swift observations, we observed a recent flare from the close by (92 Mpc) galaxy IC 3599, where a possible TDE was already observed in December 1990 during the Rosat All-Sky Survey. By light curve modeling and spectral fitting, we account for all these events as the non-disruptive tidal stripping of a single star into a 9.5 yr highly eccentric bound orbit. This is the first example of periodic partial tidal disruptions, possibly spoon-feeding the central black hole.