AAS 196th Meeting, June 2000
Session 21. Supermassive Blackhole Research and Advances with STIS
Topical Session Oral, Tuesday, June 6, 2000, 8:30-10:00am, 10:45am-12:30pm, 2:00-3:30pm, 3:45-5:30pm, Lilac Ballroom

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[21.07] Water Masers and AGN Structure

L. J. Greenhill (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

Water masers have been observed in 22 active galactic nuclei (AGN) that are Seyfert II objects or LINERs. The masers are high brightness-temperature beacons, and when studied with high frequency and angular resolution, as with Very Long Baseline Interferometry, they may be used to pinpoint the central engines of the AGN. Four of the maser sources that have been investigated in detail have been found to trace the warm, dense (molecular) gas in accretion disks at radii of 0.1 to 1 pc. In these systems (NGC4258, NGC1068, NGC4945, and the Circinus Galaxy) the disks are vertically thin and mildly warped, and their rotation axes are aligned with known outflow axes. The declining rotation curves display orbital motions of 200 to 1100 km/s, and indicate central masses of one to forty million suns. Accretion efficiencies are on the order of 0.01% to 10%, with respect to the Eddington luminosities.

The disks are clumpy, and the warps suggest that there is substantial dense material at radii less than about 1 pc, along the lines of lines of sight to the central engines. Rather than the oft posited dusty tori of AGN unification scenarios, this disk material may be responsible for much of the observed X-ray absorbing columns in these systems. In Circinus, dense material traced by masers also lies at high latitudes, away from the disk. The emission traces a clumpy, wide-angle outflow that arises within ~0.1 pc of the central engine. Because the outflow-borne clumps that display maser emission are widely distributed and have no discernable rotation curve, they probably arise largely independently of radiation or wind-driven ablation of the visible accretion disk. However, disk-wind interaction may be responsbile for exciting some maser clumps at low latitudes.

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