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The rotating wind of the quasar PG 1700+518

Abstract

It is now widely accepted that most galaxies undergo an active phase, during which a central super-massive black hole generates vast radiant luminosities through the gravitational accretion of gas1,2. Winds launched from a rotating accretion disk surrounding the black hole are thought to play a critical role, allowing the disk to shed angular momentum that would otherwise inhibit accretion3,4. Such winds are capable of depositing large amounts of mechanical energy in the host galaxy and its environs, profoundly affecting its formation and evolution5,6,7, and perhaps regulating the formation of large-scale cosmological structures in the early Universe8,9. Although there are good theoretical grounds for believing that outflows from active galactic nuclei originate as disk winds10, observational verification has proven elusive. Here we show that structures observed in polarized light across the broad Hα emission line in the quasar PG 1700+518 originate close to the accretion disk in an electron scattering wind. The wind has large rotational motions (4,000 km s-1), providing direct observational evidence that outflows from active galactic nuclei are launched from the disks. Moreover, the wind rises nearly vertically from the disk, favouring launch mechanisms that impart an initial acceleration perpendicular to the disk plane.

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Figure 1: The polarization data for the BAL quasar PG1700+518.
Figure 2: Comparison of simulated polarization spectra for different scattering geometries.
Figure 3: A cross-section schematic illustration of the wind geometry inferred from the polarization and spectroscopic properties of PG1700+518.

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Acknowledgements

This work is based on observations made with the William Herschel Telescope operated on the island of La Palma by the Isaac Newton Group in the Spanish Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias. This research has made use of NASA’s Astrophysics Data System. We acknowledge financial support from the Science and Technology Facilities Council, UK.

Author Contributions All authors contributed extensively to the work presented in this paper.

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Correspondence to S. Young.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Figures

The file contains Supplementary Figures 1-5 with Legends. These figures illustrate the model output for (1) thermal motions of the scattering elements; (2) different scattering geometries (a colour version of Figure 2 from the main article); (3) cylindrical winds with different outflow and rotational velocities; (4) cylindrical winds with extending to differing vertical heights and (5) cylindrical winds launched from differing radii on the accretion disc. (PDF 421 kb)

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Young, S., Axon, D., Robinson, A. et al. The rotating wind of the quasar PG 1700+518. Nature 450, 74–76 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature06319

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