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  1. ABSTRACT The merger of two or more galaxies can enhance the inflow of material from galactic scales into the close environments of active galactic nuclei (AGNs), obscuring and feeding the supermassive black hole (SMBH). Both recent simulations and observations of AGN in mergers have confirmed that mergers are related to strong nuclear obscuration. However, it is still unclear how AGN obscuration evolves in the last phases of the merger process. We study a sample of 60 luminous and ultra-luminous IR galaxies (U/LIRGs) from the GOALS sample observed by NuSTAR. We find that the fraction of AGNs that are Compton thick (CT; $N_{\rm H}\ge 10^{24}\rm \, cm^{-2}$) peaks at $74_{-19}^{+14}{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$ at a late merger stage, prior to coalescence, when the nuclei have projected separations (dsep) of 0.4–6 kpc. A similar peak is also observed in the median NH [$(1.6\pm 0.5)\times 10^{24}\rm \, cm^{-2}$]. The vast majority ($85^{+7}_{-9}{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$) of the AGNs in the final merger stages (dsep ≲ 10 kpc) are heavily obscured ($N_{\rm H}\ge 10^{23}\rm \, cm^{-2}$), and the median NH of the accreting SMBHs in our sample is systematically higher than that of local hard X-ray-selected AGN, regardless of the merger stage. This implies that thesemore »objects have very obscured nuclear environments, with the $N_{\rm H}\ge 10^{23}\rm \, cm^{-2}$ gas almost completely covering the AGN in late mergers. CT AGNs tend to have systematically higher absorption-corrected X-ray luminosities than less obscured sources. This could either be due to an evolutionary effect, with more obscured sources accreting more rapidly because they have more gas available in their surroundings, or to a selection bias. The latter scenario would imply that we are still missing a large fraction of heavily obscured, lower luminosity ($L_{2-10}\lesssim 10^{43}\rm \, erg\, s^{-1}$) AGNs in U/LIRGs.« less
  2. Context. Realistic synthetic observations of theoretical source models are essential for our understanding of real observational data. In using synthetic data, one can verify the extent to which source parameters can be recovered and evaluate how various data corruption effects can be calibrated. These studies are the most important when proposing observations of new sources, in the characterization of the capabilities of new or upgraded instruments, and when verifying model-based theoretical predictions in a direct comparison with observational data. Aims. We present the SYnthetic Measurement creator for long Baseline Arrays ( SYMBA ), a novel synthetic data generation pipeline for Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) observations. SYMBA takes into account several realistic atmospheric, instrumental, and calibration effects. Methods. We used SYMBA to create synthetic observations for the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a millimetre VLBI array, which has recently captured the first image of a black hole shadow. After testing SYMBA with simple source and corruption models, we study the importance of including all corruption and calibration effects, compared to the addition of thermal noise only. Using synthetic data based on two example general relativistic magnetohydrodynamics (GRMHD) model images of M 87, we performed case studies to assess the image qualitymore »that can be obtained with the current and future EHT array for different weather conditions. Results. Our synthetic observations show that the effects of atmospheric and instrumental corruptions on the measured visibilities are significant. Despite these effects, we demonstrate how the overall structure of our GRMHD source models can be recovered robustly with the EHT2017 array after performing calibration steps, which include fringe fitting, a priori amplitude and network calibration, and self-calibration. With the planned addition of new stations to the EHT array in the coming years, images could be reconstructed with higher angular resolution and dynamic range. In our case study, these improvements allowed for a distinction between a thermal and a non-thermal GRMHD model based on salient features in reconstructed images.« less