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Warm absorbers: supermassive black hole feeding and Compton-thick AGN

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journal contribution
posted on 2019-06-21, 14:36 authored by Kastytis Zubovas, Andrew King
Warm absorbers are found in many active galactic nuclei (AGN) and consist of clouds moving at moderate radial velocities, showing complex ionization structures and having moderate to large column densities. Using 1D numerical calculations, we confirm earlier suggestions that the energy released by an AGN pushes the surrounding gas outward in a bubble until this reaches transparency. Typical AGN episode durations of 5 × 10^4 yr supply enough energy for this, except in very gas-rich and/or very compact galaxies, such as those in the early Universe. In those galaxies, the AGN might remain hidden for many periods of activity, hiding the black hole growth. The typical radii of 0.1−1 kpc, velocities of 100–1000 km s^−1, and resulting optical depths are consistent with observations of warm absorbers. The resulting structure is a natural outcome of outflows driven by AGN buried in an optically thick gas envelope, and has a total mass comparable to the final M − σ mass the central supermassive black hole will eventually reach. These results suggest that AGN can feed very efficiently by agitating this surrounding dense material. This may not be easy to observe, as this gas is Compton thick along many sightlines. The infall may produce episodic star formation in the centre, building up nuclear star clusters simultaneously with the growth of the central black hole.


KZ is funded by the Research Council Lithuania grant no. MIP-17-78. ARK acknowledges support from the UK STFC.



Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 2019, 484(2), pp. 1829–1837

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/Organisation/COLLEGE OF SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING/Department of Physics and Astronomy


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Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society


Oxford University Press (OUP), Royal Astronomical Society





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