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Published December 16, 2022 | Published
Journal Article Open

Mapping the circumnuclear regions of the Circinus galaxy with the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer


We report on the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) observation of the closest and X-ray brightest Compton-thick active galactic nucleus (AGN), the Circinus galaxy. We find the source to be significantly polarized in the 2–6 keV band. From previous studies, the X-ray spectrum is known to be dominated by reflection components, both neutral (torus) and ionized (ionization cones). Our analysis indicates that the polarization degree is 28 ± 7 per cent (at 68 per cent confidence level) for the neutral reflector, with a polarization angle of 18° ± 5°, roughly perpendicular to the radio jet. The polarization of the ionized reflection is unconstrained. A comparison with Monte Carlo simulations of the polarization expected from the torus shows that the neutral reflector is consistent with being an equatorial torus with a half-opening angle of 45°–55°. This is the first X-ray polarization detection in a Seyfert galaxy, demonstrating the power of X-ray polarimetry in probing the geometry of the circumnuclear regions of AGNs, and confirming the basic predictions of standard Unification Models.

Additional Information

The Imaging X ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) is a joint US and Italian mission. The US contribution is supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and led and managed by its Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), with industry partner Ball Aerospace (contract NNM15AA18C). The Italian contribution is supported by the Italian Space Agency (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, ASI) through contract ASI-OHBI-2017-12-I.0, agreements ASI-INAF-2017-12-H0 and ASI-INFN-2017.13-H0, and its Space Science Data Center (SSDC) with agreements ASI-INAF-2022-14-HH.0 and ASI-INFN 2021-43-HH.0, and by the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF) and the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN) in Italy. This research used data products provided by the IXPE Team (MSFC, SSDC, INAF, and INFN) and distributed with additional software tools by the High-Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center (HEASARC), at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). JPou and SST were supported by the Academy of Finland grants 349373 and 349906. AIng acknowledges support from the Royal Society. MDov, JSvo, and VKar acknowledge the support from the GACR project 21-06825X. POP acknowledges financial support from the French High Energy Program (PNHE/CNRS) and from the French spatial agency (CNES).

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