Star formation in self-gravitating disks in active galactic nuclei. I. Metallicity gradients in broad-line regions

Jian Min Wang, Jun Qiang Ge, Chen Hu, Jack A. Baldwin, Yan Rong Li, Gary J. Ferland, Fei Xiang, Chang Shuo Yan, Shu Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


It has been suggested that the high metallicity generally observed in active galactic nuclei (AGNs) and quasars originates from ongoing star formation in the self-gravitating part of accretion disks around supermassive black holes (SMBHs). We designate this region as the star-forming (SF) disk, in which metals are produced from supernova explosions (SNexp) while at the same time inflows are driven by SNexp-excited turbulent viscosity to accrete onto the SMBHs. In this paper, an equation of metallicity governed by SNexp and radial advection is established to describe the metal distribution and evolution in the SF disk. We find that the metal abundance is enriched at different rates at different positions in the disk, and that a metallicity gradient is set up that evolves for steady-state AGNs. Metallicity as an integrated physical parameter can be used as a probe of the SF disk age during one episode of SMBH activity. In the SF disk, evaporation of molecular clouds heated by SNexp blast waves unavoidably forms hot gas. This heating is eventually balanced by the cooling of the hot gas, but we show that the hot gas will escape from the SF disk before being cooled, and diffuse into the broad-line regions (BLRs) forming with a typical rate of ∼1 M yr-1. The diffusion of hot gas from an SF disk depends on ongoing star formation, leading to the metallicity gradients in BLR observed in AGNs. We discuss this and other observable consequences of this scenario.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 20 2011


  • black hole physics
  • galaxies: evolution
  • quasars: general

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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