Quasar Rain: the Broad Emission Line Region as Condensations in the Warm Accretion Disk Wind [GA]


The origin of the broad emission line region (BELR) in quasars and active galactic nuclei is still unclear. I propose that condensations form in the warm, radiation pressure driven, accretion disk wind of quasars creating the BEL clouds and uniting them with the other two manifestations of cool, 10,000 K, gas in quasars, the low ionization phase of the warm absorbers (WAs) and the clouds causing X-ray eclipses. The cool clouds will condense quickly (days to years), before the WA outflows reach escape velocity (which takes months to centuries). Cool clouds form in equilibrium with the warm phase of the wind because the rapidly varying X-ray quasar continuum changes the force multiplier, causing pressure waves to move gas into stable locations in pressure-temperature space. The narrow range of 2-phase equilibrium densities may explain the scaling of the BELR size with the square root of luminosity, while the scaling of cloud formation timescales could produce the Baldwin effect. These dense clouds have force multipliers of order unity and so cannot be accelerated to escape velocity. They fall back on a dynamical timescale (months to centuries), producing an inflow that rains down toward the central black hole. As they soon move at Mach ~40 with respect to the WA outflow, these ‘raindrops’ will be rapidly destroyed within months. This rain of clouds may produce the elliptical BELR orbits implied by velocity resolved reverberation mapping in some objects, and can explain the opening angle and destruction timescale of the narrow ‘cometary’ tails of the clouds seen in X-ray eclipse observations. Some consequences and challenges of this ‘quasar rain’ model are presented along with several avenues for theoretical investigation.

Read this paper on arXiv…

M. Elvis
Thu, 9 Mar 17

Comments: 25 pages, 2 figures. ApJ in press