We describe a method to identify inclined water maser disks orbiting massive black holes and to potentially use them to measure black hole masses. Due to the geometry of maser amplification pathways, the minority of water maser disks are observable: only those viewed nearly edge-on have been identified, suggesting that an order of magnitude additional maser disks exist. We suggest that inward-propagating masers will be gravitationally deflected by the central black hole, thereby scattering water maser emission out of the disk plane and enabling detection. The signature of an inclined water maser disk would be narrow masers near the systemic velocity that appear to emit from the black hole position, as identified by the radio continuum core. To explore this possibility, we present high resolution (0.07″-0.17″) Very Large Array line and continuum observations of 13 galaxies with narrow water maser emission and show that three are good inclined disk candidates (five remain ambiguous). In the best case, for CGCG 120$-$039, we show that the maser and continuum emission are coincident to within $3.5\pm1.4$ pc ($6.7\pm2.7$ milliarcsec). Subsequent very long baseline interferometric maps can confirm candidate inclined disks and have the potential to show maser rings or arcs that provide a direct measurement of black hole mass, although the mass precision will rely on knowledge of the size of the maser disk.
Thu, 23 Feb 17
Comments: 19 pages, accepted for publication in ApJ