Measuring Supermassive Black Hole Peculiar Motion Using H2O Megamasers

D. W. Pesce, J. A. Braatz, J. J. Condon, J. E. Greene

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13 Scopus citations


H2O megamasers residing in the accretion disks of active galactic nuclei (AGNs) exhibit Keplerian rotation about the central supermassive black hole (SMBH). Such disk maser systems are excellent tools for diagnosing the kinematic status of the SMBH, and they currently provide the only direct and unambiguous measure of SMBH velocities outside the Milky Way. We have measured the galaxy recession velocities for a sample of 10 maser disk systems using a combination of spatially resolved H i disk modeling, spatially integrated H i profile fitting, and optical spectral line and continuum fitting. In comparing the SMBH velocities to those of their host galaxies, we find two (out of 10) systems - J0437+2456 and NGC 6264 - for which the SMBH and galaxy velocities show a statistically significant (>3σ) difference. For NGC 6264 the apparent velocity offset can likely be explained by ionized gas motion within the host galaxy (e.g., from AGN-driven shocks). The velocity measurements for J0437+2456, however, imply a SMBH peculiar velocity of 69.6 ± 12.7 km s-1 (5.5σ). We thus consider J0437+2456 to be a promising candidate for hosting either a recoiling or binary SMBH, though additional observations are necessary to exclude the possibility of a systematic offset between the galactic recession velocity and that measured using the optical spectrum.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number149
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 20 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • galaxies: active
  • galaxies: nuclei
  • masers
  • quasars: supermassive black holes


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