Galaxy-scale outflows driven by active galactic nuclei

Jackson Debuhr, Eliot Quataert, Chung Pei Ma

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100 Scopus citations


We present hydrodynamical simulations of major mergers of galaxies and study the effects of winds produced by active galactic nuclei (AGN) on interstellar gas in the AGN's host galaxy. We consider winds with initial velocities ∼10000kms -1 and an initial momentum (energy) flux of ∼τ wL/c (∼ 0.01 τ wL), with The AGN wind sweeps up and shock heats the surrounding interstellar gas, leading to a galaxy-scale outflow with velocities ∼1000kms -1, peak mass outflow rates comparable to the star formation rate and a total ejected gas mass of ∼3 × 10 9M . Large momentum fluxes, τ w≳ 3, are required for the AGN-driven galactic outflow to suppress star formation and accretion in the black hole's host galaxy. Less powerful AGN winds (τ w≲ 3) still produce a modest galaxy-scale outflow, but the outflow has little global effect on the ambient interstellar gas. We argue that this mechanism of AGN feedback can plausibly produce the high-velocity outflows observed in post-starburst galaxies and the massive molecular and atomic outflows observed in local ultraluminous infrared galaxies. Moreover, the outflows from local ultraluminous infrared galaxies are inferred to have τ w∼ 10, comparable to what we find is required for AGN winds to regulate the growth of black holes and set the M BH - σ relation. We conclude by discussing theoretical mechanisms that can lead to AGN wind mass loading and momentum/energy fluxes large enough to have a significant impact on galaxy formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2221-2231
Number of pages11
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Galaxies: active
  • Galaxies: evolution


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