Wind from the black-hole accretion disk driving a molecular outflow in an active galaxy


Powerful winds driven by active galactic nuclei are often thought to affect the evolution of both supermassive black holes and their host galaxies, quenching star formation and explaining the close relationship between black holes and galaxies1,2. Recent observations of large-scale molecular outflows3,4,5,6,7,8 in ultraluminous infrared galaxies support this quasar-feedback idea, because they directly trace the gas from which stars form. Theoretical models9,10,11,12 suggest that these outflows originate as energy-conserving flows driven by fast accretion-disk winds. Proposed connections between large-scale molecular outflows and accretion-disk activity in ultraluminous galaxies were incomplete3,4,5,6,7,8 because no accretion-disk wind had been detected. Conversely, studies of powerful accretion-disk winds have until now focused only on X-ray observations of local Seyfert galaxies13,14 and a few higher-redshift quasars15,16,17,18,19. Here we report observations of a powerful accretion-disk wind with a mildly relativistic velocity (a quarter that of light) in the X-ray spectrum of IRAS F11119+3257, a nearby (redshift 0.189) optically classified type 1 ultraluminous infrared galaxy hosting a powerful molecular outflow6. The active galactic nucleus is responsible for about 80 per cent of the emission, with a quasar-like luminosity6 of 1.5 × 1046 ergs per second. The energetics of these two types of wide-angle outflows is consistent with the energy-conserving mechanism9,10,11,12 that is the basis of the quasar feedback1 in active galactic nuclei that lack powerful radio jets (such jets are an alternative way to drive molecular outflows).

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Figure 1: Absorption line in the Suzaku spectrum of IRAS F11119+3257.
Figure 2: Herschel-PACS OH λ = 119.23 μm observation of IRAS F11119+3257.
Figure 3: Comparison between the inner winds and the molecular outflows.


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F.T. would like to thank T. Kallman, J. García, F. Tazaki, F. Paerels and M. Cappi for comments. F.T. acknowledges support from NASA (grant NNX12AH40G). M.M. and S.V. are supported in part by NASA grants NHSC/JPL RSA 1427277 and 1454738. S.V. also acknowledges partial support through grant NSF-AST1009583. J.N.R. acknowledges the financial support of the STFC. E.G.-A. is a Research Associate at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and thanks the Spanish Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad for support under projects AYA2010-21697-C05-0 and FIS2012-39162-C06-01. C.S.R. thanks support from NASA (grant NNX14AF86G) and the US National Science Foundation (grant AST1333514).

Author information




F.T. is the Principal Investigator of the Suzaku observation. He led the X-ray spectral analysis, interpretation of the results and manuscript preparation. M.M. and E. G.-A. performed the analysis and modeling of the Herschel data. S.V. contributed to the interpretation of the results. J.N.R. and C.S.R. contributed to the X-ray spectral analysis and interpretation of the results. All authors participated in the review of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to F. Tombesi.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Broad-band Suzaku spectrum in the E = 0.5–30 keV band.

a, The time-averaged Suzaku XIS03 (solid black), XIS1 (dotted red) and PIN (solid green) spectra binned to 10σ, 5σ and 3σ, respectively. The data-to-model residuals in units of sigma with respect to the absorbed power-law model, the fast-wind model, the slow-wind model and the relativistic reflection model are shown in b, c, d and e, respectively. The energy is in the rest-frame and errors are at the 1σ level.

Extended Data Figure 2 Background-subtracted Suzaku XIS03 light curve in the E = 4−10 keV band.

The data are binned to the Suzaku orbital period of 5,760 s. The vertical line indicates the time at which the observation is split into two parts for the time-resolved spectral analysis. The effective on-source exposure time is 250 ks. The gaps in the light curve indicate periods in which the satellite could not point to the source. Therefore, the total temporal coverage of the observation is longer, about 500 ks. Errors are at the 1σ level.

Extended Data Figure 3 Time-resolved Suzaku spectral analysis in the E = 0.5−30 keV band.

a, Suzaku XIS03 and PIN spectra extracted during the low-flux (green) and high-flux (blue) intervals. The XIS03 and PIN data are rebinned to 10σ and 5σ, respectively. The data-to-model ratios with respect to the fast-wind model and relativistic-reflection model are reported in b and c, respectively. Errors are at the 1σ level.

Extended Data Table 1 Best-fit values of the fast-wind model for the time-averaged spectrum
Extended Data Table 2 Best-fit values of the fast-wind model for the time-resolved spectral analysis
Extended Data Table 3 Best-fit values of the relativistic reflection model for the time-resolved spectral analysis
Extended Data Table 4 Parameters of outflows in other quasars and ultraluminous infrared galaxies collected from the literature

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Tombesi, F., Meléndez, M., Veilleux, S. et al. Wind from the black-hole accretion disk driving a molecular outflow in an active galaxy. Nature 519, 436–438 (2015).

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