Dissecting the power sources of low-luminosity emission-line galaxy nuclei via comparison of HST-STIS and ground-based spectra.
CONSTANTIN A., SHIELDS J.C., HO L.C., BARTH A.J., FILIPPENKO A.V. and CASTILLO C.A.
Abstract (from CDS):
Using a sample of ∼100 nearby line-emitting galaxy nuclei, we have built the currently definitive atlas of spectroscopic measurements of Hα and neighboring emission lines at subarcsecond scales. We employ these data in a quantitative comparison of the nebular emission in Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and ground-based apertures, which offer an order-of-magnitude difference in contrast, and provide new statistical constraints on the degree to which transition objects and low-ionization nuclear emission-line regions (LINERs) are powered by an accreting black hole at ≲10 pc. We show that while the small-aperture observations clearly resolve the nebular emission, the aperture dependence in the line ratios is generally weak, and this can be explained by gradients in the density of the line-emitting gas: the higher densities in the more nuclear regions potentially flatten the excitation gradients, suppressing the forbidden emission. The transition objects show a threefold increase in the incidence of broad Hα emission in the high-resolution data, as well as the strongest density gradients, supporting the composite model for these systems as accreting sources surrounded by star-forming activity. The narrow-line LINERs appear to be the weaker counterparts of the Type 1 LINERs, where the low accretion rates cause the disappearance of the broad-line component. The enhanced sensitivity of the HST observations reveals a 30% increase in the incidence of accretion-powered systems at z ≈ 0. A comparison of the strength of the broad-line emission detected at different epochs implies potential broad-line variability on a decade-long timescale, with at least a factor of three in amplitude.