Astronomy and Astrophysics, volume 312, 771-776 (1996/8-3)
A search for molecular absorption in the tori of active galactic nuclei.
DRINKWATER M.J., COMBES F. and WIKLIND T.
Abstract (from CDS):
We describe a search for molecular absorption at millimetre wavelengths associated with dusty molecular tori in active galactic nuclei (AGN). The sample observed consists of 11 flat-spectrum radio sources known to have red optical to infra-red colours plus two steep-spectrum narrow-line radio galaxies. Spectra of the sources were obtained in the 3-, 2- and 1.3-millimetre bands at frequencies corresponding to common molecular transitions of CO, HCO+, HCN and CS at the AGN redshift. The observations were thus sensitive to absorption taking place either in dusty molecular tori surrounding the AGN nucleus, or in molecular clouds in the AGN host galaxy. No absorptions were detected in any of the sources. We calculated upper limits to the column density in molecular absorption, using an excitation temperature of 10K, to be NCO<1015-1016cm–2, equivalent to hydrogen columns of order NH<1019-1020cm–2. These limits are significantly lower than the values (NH≃(2-6)x1021cm–2) that might be expected if the red colours of these sources were due to dust absorption at the quasar redshift as suggested by Webster et al. (1995). Should the excitation temperature of the molecular transitions be higher than 100K, the upper limits to the H2 column densities would be greater than those derived from the red colours. To explain the lack of molecular absorption we conclude that either the optical extinction takes place outside the host galaxy (along the line of sight), or the excitation temperature of the molecular transitions is very high, or the obscuration is not associated with significant amounts of cold molecular gas. It is quite possible that the hard X-ray flux from the central source of these AGN is strong enough to photo-dissociate the molecules.