Letter | Published:

The power of relativistic jets is larger than the luminosity of their accretion disks

Nature volume 515, pages 376378 (20 November 2014) | Download Citation

Abstract

Theoretical models for the production of relativistic jets from active galactic nuclei predict that jet power arises from the spin and mass of the central supermassive black hole, as well as from the magnetic field near the event horizon1. The physical mechanism underlying the contribution from the magnetic field is the torque exerted on the rotating black hole by the field amplified by the accreting material. If the squared magnetic field is proportional to the accretion rate, then there will be a correlation between jet power and accretion luminosity. There is evidence for such a correlation2,3,4,5,6,7,8, but inadequate knowledge of the accretion luminosity of the limited and inhomogeneous samples used prevented a firm conclusion. Here we report an analysis of archival observations of a sample of blazars (quasars whose jets point towards Earth) that overcomes previous limitations. We find a clear correlation between jet power, as measured through the γ-ray luminosity, and accretion luminosity, as measured by the broad emission lines, with the jet power dominating the disk luminosity, in agreement with numerical simulations9. This implies that the magnetic field threading the black hole horizon reaches the maximum value sustainable by the accreting matter10.

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Acknowledgements

F.T. and L.M. acknowledge partial funding through a PRIN–INAF 2011 grant.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica – Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera, Via E. Bianchi 46, I–23807 Merate, Italy

    • G. Ghisellini
    • , F. Tavecchio
    • , L. Maraschi
    • , A. Celotti
    •  & T. Sbarrato
  2. Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica – Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera, Via E. Brera 28, I–20121 Milano, Italy

    • L. Maraschi
  3. Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati, Via Bonomea 265, I–34135 Trieste, Italy

    • A. Celotti
  4. Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare – Sezione di Trieste, Via Valerio 2, I-34127 Trieste, Italy

    • A. Celotti
  5. Università dell’Insubria, Dipartimento di Fisica e Matematica, Via Valleggio 11, I–22100 Como, Italy

    • T. Sbarrato
  6. European Southern Observatory, Karl-Schwarzschild-Strasse 2, 8578 Garching bei München, Germany

    • T. Sbarrato

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Contributions

G.G. wrote the manuscript and fitted all blazars presented. F.T., L.M., A.C. and T.S. contributed to the discussion of the implications of the results.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to G. Ghisellini.

Extended data

Supplementary information

Excel files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Table 1

    This table contains relevant parameters of the blazars in this study. Col. 1 and Col. 2: AR and Dec (J2000); Col. 3: redshift; Col. 4 – Col. 7: Logarithm of Prad, Pe, PB, Pp (powers in units of erg s1); Col. 8: bulk Lorentz factor; Col. 9: viewing angle in degrees; Col. 10: Logarithm of the disk luminosity (in units of erg s1) as resulting from disk fitting; Col. 11: Logarithm of the disk luminosity (in units of erg s1) as measured from the broad emission lines; Col. 12 – Col. 14: logarithm of the black hole mass (in units of the solar mass) estimated through the virial method12 using the H (Col. 12), MgII (Col. 13) and CIV (Col. 14) broad emission lines.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13856

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