A. Ferrara, Evan Scannapieco

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33 Scopus citations


We study the origin of the cold molecular clumps in quasar outflows, recently detected in CO and HCN emission. We first describe the physical properties of such radiation-driven outflows and show that a transition from a momentum- to an energy-driven flow must occur at a radial distance of R ≈ 0.25 kpc. During this transition, the shell of swept-up material fragments due to Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities, but these clumps contain little mass and are likely to be rapidly ablated by the hot gas in which they are immersed. We then explore an alternative scenario in which clumps form from thermal instabilities at R ≳ 1 kpc, possibly containing enough dust to catalyze molecule formation. We investigate this process with 3D two-fluid (gas+dust) numerical simulations of a kpc3 patch of the outflow, including atomic and dust cooling, thermal conduction, dust sputtering, and photoionization from the QSO radiation field. In all cases, dust grains are rapidly destroyed in ≈104 years; and while some cold clumps form at later times, they are present only as transient features, which disappear as cooling becomes more widespread. In fact, we only find a stable two-phase medium with dense clumps if we artificially enhance the QSO radiation field by a factor of 100. This result, together with the complete destruction of dust grains, renders the interpretation of molecular outflows a very challenging problem.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number46
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 10 2016


  • galaxies: evolution
  • intergalactic medium
  • quasars: general

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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