Is thermal expansion driving the initial gas ejection in NGC 6251?

Fulvio Melia, Siming Liu, Marco Patuzzo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The relativistic jets in active galactic nuclei (AGNs) are probably driven by the action of supermassive, spinning black holes. There is very little direct evidence for this, however, since the nuclei of active galaxies are difficult to study. This is now changing with new, high-resolution multiwavelength observations of nearby sources such as Sgr A* at the Galactic center and the nucleus of NGC 6251 (hereafter called NGC 6251*). In this paper, we explore the possibility that the radiative properties of the most compact region in NGC 6251* may be understood in the same sense as Sgr A*, though with some telling differences that may hint at the nature of jet formation. We show that observations of this object with ASCA, ROSAT, HST, and VLBI together may be suggesting a picture in which Bondi-Hoyle accretion from an ambient ionized medium feeds a standard disk accreting at ∼ 4.0 × 1022 g s-1. Somewhere near the event horizon, this plasma is heated to more than 1011 K, where it radiates via thermal synchrotron (producing a radio component) and self-Comptonization (accounting for a nonthermal X-ray flux). This temperature is much greater than its virial value and the hot cloud expands at roughly the sound speed (∼0.1c), after which it begins to accelerate on a parsec scale to relativistic velocities. In earlier work, the emission from the extended jet has been modeled successfully using nonthermal synchrotron self-Compton processes, with a self-absorbed inner core. In the picture we are developing here, the initial ejection of matter is associated with a self-absorbed thermal radio component that dominates the core emission on the smallest scales. The nonthermal particle distributions responsible for the emission in the extended jet are then presumably energized, e.g., via shock acceleration, within the expanding, hot gas. The power associated with this plasma represents an accretion efficiency of about 0.54, requiring dissipation in a prograde disk around a rapidly spinning black hole (with spin parameter a ∼ 1).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)811-816
Number of pages6
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 I
StatePublished - Mar 10 2002


  • Accretion, accretion disks
  • Black hole physics
  • Galaxies: active
  • Galaxies: individual (NGC 6251)
  • Galaxies: jets
  • Galaxy: center

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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