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Disc winds matter: modelling accretion and outflow on all scales

Disc winds matter: modelling accretion and outflow on all scales
Disc winds matter: modelling accretion and outflow on all scales
Outflows are ubiquitous in accreting systems across 10 orders of magnitude in mass, and there is good evidence that mass-loaded winds are launched from the accretion discs of quasars and cataclysmic variables (CVs). Perhaps the most spectacular evidence for accretion disc winds is the blue-shifted, broad absorption lines (BALs) in UV resonance lines, seen in CVs and the BAL quasars. As well as imprinting absorption features, disc winds may affect the line and continuum emission from accreting objects. They thus offer a natural way to unify much of the phenomenology of CVs and active galactic nuclei (AGN).

In this thesis, I use a state-of-the-art Monte Carlo radiative transfer (MCRT) code, Python, to conduct a series of simulations designed to test simple biconical disc wind models. I outline the MCRT techniques used, before describing a series of code validation exercises. Having tested my methods thoroughly, I explore whether the winds that are responsible for the UV BALs in high-state CVs could also have an effect on the optical spectrum. I find that the wind produces strong emission in the Balmer series, He ii 4686 A and a series of He i lines. The model shows the observed trends with inclination and in some cases produces sufficient recombination continuum emission to fill in the Balmer photoabsorption edge intrinsic to disc atmospheres. The results suggest that disc winds could have a significant impact on the optical spectra of high-state CVs.

The next step was to apply the techniques to quasar winds in a test of disc wind unification models. In previous efforts, the ouflow tended to become 'over-ionized', and BAL features were only present if the X-ray luminosity was limited to around 1043 erg s-1. The outflow also failed to produce significant line emission. Motivated by these problems, I introduce a simple treatment of clumping and find that it allows BAL features to form in the rest-frame UV at more realistic X-ray luminosities. The fiducial model shows good agreement with AGN X-ray properties and the wind produces strong line emission. Despite these successes, the model cannot reproduce all emission lines seen in quasar spectra with the correct equivalent width (EW) ratios, and I find the emission line EWs have a strong dependence on inclination.

Informed by the quasar wind modelling, I examine the emission line EW distributions of quasars in the context of geometric unification. I find that the observed distributions are not consistent with a model in which an equatorial BAL outflow rises from a foreshortened accretion disc. I discuss this finding in the context of other observational orientation indicators. Finally, I summarise my findings and suggest avenues for future work. Overall, the work presented here suggests that disc winds matter. They not only act as a spectral 'filter' for the underlying accretion continuum, but may actually dominate the emergent spectrum from accreting objects. As a result, unveiling their driving mechanisms, mass-loss rates and ionization structure is an important goal for the astronomical community.
Matthews, James
8aa37525-32b9-460c-bb83-01c89269ac31
Matthews, James
8aa37525-32b9-460c-bb83-01c89269ac31
Mchardy, Ian
4f215137-9cc4-4a08-982e-772a0b24c17e

Matthews, James (2016) Disc winds matter: modelling accretion and outflow on all scales. University of Southampton, Faculty of Physical Sciences and Engineering, Doctoral Thesis, 247pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

Outflows are ubiquitous in accreting systems across 10 orders of magnitude in mass, and there is good evidence that mass-loaded winds are launched from the accretion discs of quasars and cataclysmic variables (CVs). Perhaps the most spectacular evidence for accretion disc winds is the blue-shifted, broad absorption lines (BALs) in UV resonance lines, seen in CVs and the BAL quasars. As well as imprinting absorption features, disc winds may affect the line and continuum emission from accreting objects. They thus offer a natural way to unify much of the phenomenology of CVs and active galactic nuclei (AGN).

In this thesis, I use a state-of-the-art Monte Carlo radiative transfer (MCRT) code, Python, to conduct a series of simulations designed to test simple biconical disc wind models. I outline the MCRT techniques used, before describing a series of code validation exercises. Having tested my methods thoroughly, I explore whether the winds that are responsible for the UV BALs in high-state CVs could also have an effect on the optical spectrum. I find that the wind produces strong emission in the Balmer series, He ii 4686 A and a series of He i lines. The model shows the observed trends with inclination and in some cases produces sufficient recombination continuum emission to fill in the Balmer photoabsorption edge intrinsic to disc atmospheres. The results suggest that disc winds could have a significant impact on the optical spectra of high-state CVs.

The next step was to apply the techniques to quasar winds in a test of disc wind unification models. In previous efforts, the ouflow tended to become 'over-ionized', and BAL features were only present if the X-ray luminosity was limited to around 1043 erg s-1. The outflow also failed to produce significant line emission. Motivated by these problems, I introduce a simple treatment of clumping and find that it allows BAL features to form in the rest-frame UV at more realistic X-ray luminosities. The fiducial model shows good agreement with AGN X-ray properties and the wind produces strong line emission. Despite these successes, the model cannot reproduce all emission lines seen in quasar spectra with the correct equivalent width (EW) ratios, and I find the emission line EWs have a strong dependence on inclination.

Informed by the quasar wind modelling, I examine the emission line EW distributions of quasars in the context of geometric unification. I find that the observed distributions are not consistent with a model in which an equatorial BAL outflow rises from a foreshortened accretion disc. I discuss this finding in the context of other observational orientation indicators. Finally, I summarise my findings and suggest avenues for future work. Overall, the work presented here suggests that disc winds matter. They not only act as a spectral 'filter' for the underlying accretion continuum, but may actually dominate the emergent spectrum from accreting objects. As a result, unveiling their driving mechanisms, mass-loss rates and ionization structure is an important goal for the astronomical community.

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Published date: June 2016
Organisations: University of Southampton, Astronomy Group

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 400903
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/400903
PURE UUID: dca92cf4-2a99-4c5b-b43b-56cbcea348d5

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Date deposited: 08 Nov 2016 14:41
Last modified: 17 Jul 2017 18:08

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