On the efficient acceleration of clouds in active galactic nuclei

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In the broad line region of active galactic nuclei (AGN), acceleration occurs naturally when a cloud condenses out of the hot confining medium due to the increase in line opacity as the cloud cools. However, acceleration by radiation pressure is not very efficient when the flux is time-independent, unless the flow is 1D. Here, we explore how acceleration is affected by a time-varying flux, as AGN are known to be highly variable. If the period of flux oscillations is longer than the thermal time-scale, we expect the gas to cool during the low flux state, and therefore line opacity should quickly increase. The cloud will receive a small kick due to the increased radiation force. We perform hydrodynamical simulations using ATHENA to confirm this effect and quantify its importance. We find that despite the flow becoming turbulent in 2D due to hydrodynamic instabilities, a 20 per cent modulation of the flux leads to a net increase in acceleration - by more than a factor of 2 - in both 1D and 2D. We show that this acceleration is sufficient to produce the observed line widths, although we only consider optically thin clouds.We discuss the implications of our results for photoionization modelling and reverberation mapping. © 2016 The Authors.


Emission lines; hydrodynamics - instabilities - quasars

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