A statistical method to search for recoiling supermassive black holes in active galactic nuclei

P. Raffai, Z. Haiman, Z. Frei

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We propose an observational test for gravitationally recoiling supermassive black holes (BHs) in active galactic nuclei, based on a correlation between the velocities of BHs relative to their host galaxies, |Δv|, and their obscuring dust column densities, Σdust (both measured along the line of sight).We use toy models for the distribution of recoil velocities, BHtrajectories, and the geometry of obscuring dust tori in galactic centres, to simulate 2.5 × 105 random observations of recoiling quasars. BHs with recoil velocities comparable to the escape velocity from the galactic centre remain bound to the nucleus, and do not fully settle back to the centre of the torus due to dynamical friction in a typical quasar lifetime. We find that |Δv| and Σdust for these BHs are positively correlated. For obscured (Σdust > 0) and for partially obscured (0 < Σdust ≲ 2.3 gm-2) quasars with |Δv| ≥ 45 km s-1, the sample correlation coefficient between log10(|Δv|) and Σdust is r45 = 0.28 ± 0.02 and r45 = 0.13 ± 0.02, respectively. Allowing for random ±100 km s-1 errors in |Δv| unrelated to the recoil dilutes the correlation for the partially obscured quasars to r45 = 0.026 ± 0.004 measured between |Δv| and Σdust. A random sample of ≳ 3500 obscured quasars with |Δv| = 45 km s-1 would allow rejection of the no-correlation hypothesis with 3s significance 95 per cent of the time. Finally, we find that the fraction of obscured quasars, Fobs (|Δv|), decreases with |Δv| from Fobs (<10 km s-1) ≳ 0.8 to Fobs (>103 km s-1) ≲ 0.4. This predicted trend can be compared to the observed fraction of type II quasars, and can further test combinations of recoil, trajectory, and dust torus models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)484-492
Number of pages9
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2016



  • Black hole physics
  • Galaxies: active
  • Galaxies: nuclei
  • Methods: observational

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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