Wednesday, July 10, 2013

1307.2233 (Francois Schweizer et al.)

The [O III] Nebula of the Merger Remnant NGC 7252: A Likely Faint Ionization Echo    [PDF]

Francois Schweizer, Patrick Seitzer, Daniel D. Kelson, Edward V. Villanueva, Gregory L. Walth
We present images and spectra of a ~10 kpc-sized emission-line nebulosity discovered in the prototypical merger remnant NGC 7252 and dubbed the `[O III] nebula' because of its dominant [O III]_5007 line. This nebula seems to yield the first sign of episodic AGN activity still occurring in the remnant, ~220 Myr after the coalescence of two gas-rich galaxies. Its location and kinematics suggest it belongs to a stream of tidal-tail gas falling back into the remnant. Its integrated [O III]_5007 luminosity is 1.4x10^40 erg/s, and its spectrum features some high-excitation lines, including He II_4686. In diagnostic line- ratio diagrams, the nebula lies in the domain of Seyfert galaxies, suggesting that it is photoionized by a source with a power-law spectrum. Yet, a search for AGN activity in NGC 7252 from X-rays to radio wavelengths yields no detection, with the most stringent upper limit set by X-ray observations. The upper luminosity limit of L_{2-10 keV,0} < 5x10^39 erg/s estimated for the nucleus is ~10^3 times lower than the minimum ionizing luminosity of >5x10^42 erg/s necessary to excite the nebula. This large discrepancy suggests that the nebula is a faint ionization echo excited by a mildly active nucleus that has declined by ~3 orders of magnitude over the past 20,000-200,000 years. In many ways this nebula resembles the prototypical `Hanny's Voorwerp' near IC 2497, but its size is 3x smaller and its [O III] luminosity ~100x lower. We propose that it be classified as an extended emission-line region (EELR). The [O III] nebula is then the lowest-luminosity ionization echo and EELR discovered so far, indicative of recent, probably sputtering AGN activity of Seyfert-like intensity in NGC 7252.
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