Optically thin broad-line clouds in active galactic nuclei

Joseph C. Shields, Gary J. Ferland, Bradley M. Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


The broad-line region (BLR) in Seyfert galaxy nuclei exhibits correlated variations in continuum and emission-line luminosity that are qualitatively consistent with photoionization of ionization-bounded (optically thick) clouds. However, evidence is growing that a nonnegligible fraction of the BLR cloud population is optically thin to the Lyman continuum and fully ionized in hydrogen. We consider the implications of this nebular component for observed line emission and find that inclusion of thin clouds in photoionization calculations can resolve several outstanding puzzles of Seyfert variability, notably the behavior of the C IV λ1549/ Lyα ratio as a function of continuum luminosity. A similar population of thin clouds located along our line of sight can account for observed ultraviolet absorption features and "warm absorber" behavior at X-ray energies. The Baldwin effect for active galaxies, a negative correlation between ultraviolet emission-line equivalent width and continuum luminosity, can also be explained in detail by a decrease in the covering factor of an optically thin component with increasing source luminosity. The luminosity dependence of covering factor may result from outflows of thin clouds that proceed more efficiently in intrinsically brighter sources. The presence of absorption features in AGNs that are blueshifted and attain the highest velocities in broad absorption line features associated with luminous QSOs would be consistent with this interpretation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)507-520
Number of pages14
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 10 1995


  • Galaxies: Seyfert
  • Galaxies: active
  • Galaxies: nuclei
  • Quasars: emission lines

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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