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Spatially resolved rotation of the broad-line region of a quasar at sub-parsec scale

Spatially resolved rotation of the broad-line region of a quasar at sub-parsec scale
Spatially resolved rotation of the broad-line region of a quasar at sub-parsec scale

The broadening of atomic emission lines by high-velocity motion of gas near accreting supermassive black holes is an observational hallmark of quasars1. Observations of broad emission lines could potentially constrain the mechanism for transporting gas inwards through accretion disks or outwards through winds2. The size of regions for which broad emission lines are observed (broad-line regions) has been estimated by measuring the delay in light travel time between the variable brightness of the accretion disk continuum and the emission lines3—a method known as reverberation mapping. In some models the emission lines arise from a continuous outflow4, whereas in others they arise from orbiting gas clouds5. Directly imaging such regions has not hitherto been possible because of their small angular size (less than 10−4 arcseconds3,6). Here we report a spatial offset (with a spatial resolution of 10−5 arcseconds, or about 0.03 parsecs for a distance of 550 million parsecs) between the red and blue photo-centres of the broad Paschen-α line of the quasar 3C 273 perpendicular to the direction of its radio jet. This spatial offset corresponds to a gradient in the velocity of the gas and thus implies that the gas is orbiting the central supermassive black hole. The data are well fitted by a broad-line-region model of a thick disk of gravitationally bound material orbiting a black hole of 3 × 108 solar masses. We infer a disk radius of 150 light days; a radius of 100–400 light days was found previously using reverberation mapping7–9. The rotation axis of the disk aligns in inclination and position angle with the radio jet. Our results support the methods that are often used to estimate the masses of accreting supermassive black holes and to study their evolution over cosmic time.

0028-0836
657-660
Sturm, E.
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Garcia, P. J.V.
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Scheithauer, S.
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Sturm, E., Dexter, J., Pfuhl, O., Stock, M. R., Davies, R. I., Lutz, D., Clénet, Y., Eckart, A., Eisenhauer, F., Genzel, R., Gratadour, D., Hönig, S. F., Kishimoto, M., Lacour, S., Millour, F., Netzer, H., Perrin, G., Peterson, B. M., Petrucci, P. O., Rouan, D., Waisberg, I., Woillez, J., Amorim, A., Brandner, W., Schreiber, N. M.Förster, Garcia, P. J.V., Gillessen, S., Ott, T., Paumard, T., Perraut, K., Scheithauer, S., Straubmeier, C., Tacconi, L. J. and Widmann, F. (2018) Spatially resolved rotation of the broad-line region of a quasar at sub-parsec scale. Nature, 563 (7733), 657-660. (doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0731-9).

Record type: Letter

Abstract

The broadening of atomic emission lines by high-velocity motion of gas near accreting supermassive black holes is an observational hallmark of quasars1. Observations of broad emission lines could potentially constrain the mechanism for transporting gas inwards through accretion disks or outwards through winds2. The size of regions for which broad emission lines are observed (broad-line regions) has been estimated by measuring the delay in light travel time between the variable brightness of the accretion disk continuum and the emission lines3—a method known as reverberation mapping. In some models the emission lines arise from a continuous outflow4, whereas in others they arise from orbiting gas clouds5. Directly imaging such regions has not hitherto been possible because of their small angular size (less than 10−4 arcseconds3,6). Here we report a spatial offset (with a spatial resolution of 10−5 arcseconds, or about 0.03 parsecs for a distance of 550 million parsecs) between the red and blue photo-centres of the broad Paschen-α line of the quasar 3C 273 perpendicular to the direction of its radio jet. This spatial offset corresponds to a gradient in the velocity of the gas and thus implies that the gas is orbiting the central supermassive black hole. The data are well fitted by a broad-line-region model of a thick disk of gravitationally bound material orbiting a black hole of 3 × 108 solar masses. We infer a disk radius of 150 light days; a radius of 100–400 light days was found previously using reverberation mapping7–9. The rotation axis of the disk aligns in inclination and position angle with the radio jet. Our results support the methods that are often used to estimate the masses of accreting supermassive black holes and to study their evolution over cosmic time.

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1811.11195 - Accepted Manuscript
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Accepted/In Press date: 1 October 2018
e-pub ahead of print date: 28 November 2018
Published date: 29 November 2018

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 428973
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/428973
ISSN: 0028-0836
PURE UUID: 8cb04670-b53d-4d19-a355-01966d46f79d

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Date deposited: 15 Mar 2019 17:30
Last modified: 26 Nov 2021 06:59

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Contributors

Author: E. Sturm
Author: J. Dexter
Author: O. Pfuhl
Author: M. R. Stock
Author: R. I. Davies
Author: D. Lutz
Author: Y. Clénet
Author: A. Eckart
Author: F. Eisenhauer
Author: R. Genzel
Author: D. Gratadour
Author: S. F. Hönig
Author: M. Kishimoto
Author: S. Lacour
Author: F. Millour
Author: H. Netzer
Author: G. Perrin
Author: B. M. Peterson
Author: P. O. Petrucci
Author: D. Rouan
Author: I. Waisberg
Author: J. Woillez
Author: A. Amorim
Author: W. Brandner
Author: N. M.Förster Schreiber
Author: P. J.V. Garcia
Author: S. Gillessen
Author: T. Ott
Author: T. Paumard
Author: K. Perraut
Author: S. Scheithauer
Author: C. Straubmeier
Author: L. J. Tacconi
Author: F. Widmann

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