Probing highly obscured, self-absorbed galaxy nuclei with vibrationally excited HCN

December 2015 • 2015A&A...584A..42A

Authors • Aalto, S. • Martín, S. • Costagliola, F. • González-Alfonso, E. • Muller, S. • Sakamoto, K. • Fuller, G. A. • García-Burillo, S. • van der Werf, P. • Neri, R. • Spaans, M. • Combes, F. • Viti, S. • Mühle, S. • Armus, L. • Evans, A. • Sturm, E. • Cernicharo, J. • Henkel, C. • Greve, T. R.

Abstract • We present high resolution (0.̋4) IRAM PdBI and ALMA mm and submm observations of the (ultra) luminous infrared galaxies ((U)LIRGs) IRAS 17208-0014, Arp220, IC 860 and Zw049.057 that reveal intense line emission from vibrationally excited (ν2 = 1) J = 3-2 and 4-3 HCN. The emission is emerging from buried, compact (r< 17-70 pc) nuclei that have very high implied mid-infrared surface brightness > 5 × 1013 L kpc-2. These nuclei are likely powered by accreting supermassive black holes (SMBHs) and/or hot (>200 K) extreme starbursts. Vibrational, ν2 = 1, lines of HCN are excited by intense 14 μm mid-infrared emission and are excellent probes of the dynamics, masses, and physical conditions of (U)LIRG nuclei when H2 column densities exceed 1024 cm-2. It is clear that these lines open up a new interesting avenue to gain access to the most obscured AGNs and starbursts. Vibrationally excited HCN acts as a proxy for the absorbed mid-infrared emission from the embedded nuclei, which allows for reconstruction of the intrinsic, hotter dust SED. In contrast, we show strong evidence that the ground vibrational state (ν = 0), J = 3-2and 4-3 rotational lines of HCN and HCO+ fail to probe the highly enshrouded, compact nuclear regions owing to strong self- and continuum absorption. The HCN and HCO+ line profiles are double-peaked because of the absorption and show evidence of non-circular motions - possibly in the form of in- or outflows. Detections of vibrationally excited HCN in external galaxies are so far limited to ULIRGs and early-type spiral LIRGs, and we discuss possible causes for this. We tentatively suggest that the peak of vibrationally excited HCN emission is connected to a rapid stage of nuclear growth, before the phase of strong feedback.

Based on observations carried out with the IRAM Plateau de Bure and ALMA Interferometers. IRAM is supported by INSU/CNRS (France), MPG (Germany), and IGN (Spain). ALMA is a partnership of ESO (representing its member states), NSF (USA), and NINS (Japan), together with NRC (Canada) and NSC and ASIAA (Taiwan), in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. The Joint ALMA Observatory is operated by ESO, AUI/NRAO, and NAOJ.


IPAC Authors


Lee Armus

Senior Scientist