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Title: High-ionization emission-line ratios from quasar broad-line regions: metallicity or density?
ABSTRACT The flux ratios of high-ionization lines are commonly assumed to indicate the metallicity of the broad emission-line region in luminous quasars. When accounting for the variation in their kinematic profiles, we show that the N v/C iv, (Si iv + O iv])/C iv, and N v/Ly α line ratios do not vary as a function of the quasar continuum luminosity, black hole mass, or accretion rate. Using photoionization models from cloudy, we further show that the observed changes in these line ratios can be explained by emission from gas with solar abundances, if the physical conditions of the emitting gas are allowed to vary over a broad range of densities and ionizing fluxes. The diversity of broad-line emission in quasar spectra can be explained by a model with emission from two kinematically distinct regions, where the line ratios suggest that these regions have either very different metallicity or density. Both simplicity and current galaxy evolution models suggest that near-solar abundances, with parts of the spectrum forming in high-density clouds, are more likely. Within this paradigm, objects with stronger outflow signatures show stronger emission from gas that is denser and located closer to the ionizing source, at radii consistent with simulations of line-driven disc-winds. Studies using broad-line ratios to infer chemical enrichment histories should consider changes in density and ionizing flux before estimating metallicities.  more » « less
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Journal Name:
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Page Range / eLocation ID:
3247 to 3259
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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