A Hard X-Ray Test of HCN Enhancements As a Tracer of Embedded Black Hole Growth

April 2020 • 2020ApJ...893..149P

Authors • Privon, G. C. • Ricci, C. • Aalto, S. • Viti, S. • Armus, L. • Díaz-Santos, T. • González-Alfonso, E. • Iwasawa, K. • Jeff, D. L. • Treister, E. • Bauer, F. • Evans, A. S. • Garg, P. • Herrero-Illana, R. • Mazzarella, J. M. • Larson, K. • Blecha, L. • Barcos-Muñoz, L. • Charmandaris, V. • Stierwalt, S. • Pérez-Torres, M. A.

Abstract • Enhanced emission from the dense gas tracer HCN (relative to HCO+) has been proposed as a signature of active galactic nuclei (AGN). In a previous single-dish millimeter line survey we identified galaxies with HCN/HCO+ (1-0) intensity ratios consistent with those of many AGN but whose mid-infrared spectral diagnostics are consistent with little to no (≲15%) contribution of an AGN to the bolometric luminosity. To search for putative heavily obscured AGN, we present and analyze NuSTAR hard X-ray (3-79 keV) observations of four such galaxies from the Great Observatories All-sky LIRG Survey. We find no X-ray evidence for AGN in three of the systems and place strong upper limits on the energetic contribution of any heavily obscured ( ${N}_{{\rm{H}}}\gt {10}^{24}$ ${\mathrm{cm}}^{-2}$ ) AGN to their bolometric luminosity. The upper limits on the X-ray flux are presently an order of magnitude below what XDR-driven chemistry models predict are necessary to drive HCN enhancements. In a fourth system we find a hard X-ray excess consistent with the presence of an AGN, but contributing only ∼3% of the bolometric luminosity. It is also unclear if the AGN is spatially associated with the HCN enhancement. We further explore the relationship between HCN/HCO+ (for several Jupper levels) and ${L}_{\mathrm{AGN}}$ / ${L}_{\mathrm{IR}}$ for a larger sample of systems in the literature. We find no evidence for correlations between the line ratios and the AGN fraction derived from X-rays, indicating that HCN/HCO+ intensity ratios are not driven by the energetic dominance of AGN, nor are they reliable indicators of ongoing supermassive black hole accretion.


IPAC Authors


Lee Armus

Senior Scientist

Joe Mazzarella

Senior Scientist