Journal Article

Feast and Famine: regulation of black hole growth in low-redshift galaxies

Guinevere Kauffmann and Timothy M. Heckman

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 397, issue 1, pages 135-147
Published in print July 2009 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online July 2009 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
Feast and Famine: regulation of black hole growth in low-redshift galaxies

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We analyse the observed distribution of Eddington ratios (L/LEdd) as a function of supermassive black hole mass for a large sample of nearby galaxies drawn from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. We demonstrate that there are two distinct regimes of black hole growth in nearby galaxies. The first is associated with galaxies with significant star formation [M*/star formation rate (SFR) ∼ a Hubble time] in their central kiloparsec regions, and is characterized by a broad lognormal distribution of accretion rates peaked at a few per cent of the Eddington limit. In this regime, the Eddington ratio distribution is independent of the mass of the black hole and shows little dependence on the central stellar population of the galaxy. The second regime is associated with galaxies with old central stellar populations (M*/SFR ≫ a Hubble time), and is characterized by a power-law distribution function of Eddington ratios. In this regime, the time-averaged mass accretion rate on to black holes is proportional to the mass of stars in the galaxy bulge, with a constant of proportionality that depends on the mean stellar age of the stars. This result is once again independent of black hole mass. We show that both the slope of the power law and the decrease in the accretion rate on to black holes in old galaxies are consistent with population synthesis model predictions of the decline in stellar mass loss rates as a function of mean stellar age. Our results lead to a very simple picture of black hole growth in the local Universe. If the supply of cold gas in a galaxy bulge is plentiful, the black hole regulates its own growth at a rate that does not further depend on the properties of the interstellar medium. Once the gas runs out, black hole growth is regulated by the rate at which evolved stars lose their mass.

Keywords: galaxies: active; galaxies: bulges; galaxies: evolution; galaxies: nuclei; galaxies: stellar content

Journal Article.  9472 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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