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Published 1998 | Published
Book Section - Chapter Open

Molecular gas in luminous galactic nuclei


In the last five years, millimeter-wave interferometry has clearly shown the existence of enormous masses (10^9–10^(10)M⊙) of molecular gas concentrated in the nuclear regions (R < 500 pc) of many luminous and ultra-luminous infrared galaxies. In these systems, molecular gas is an obvious source of fuel for nuclear starbursts and active galactic nuclei (AGN). For nearer, lower-luminosity systems there exists less systematic characterization of either the properties or the structure of the nuclear gas. Here we review recent results on the molecular gas in the nuclei of two near, lower-luminosity systems (M51 and NGC 1068) and contrast these results with those for the best studied ultra-luminous IRAS galaxy, Arp 220. For all three galaxies, there now exists CO(2–1) interferometry at high resolution which reveals, for the first time, disks of extremely dense, highly excited gas on scales of 50-300 pc. These structures vary in their levels of axisymmetry, thickness, and clumpiness. However, they share the ability to extinguish optical and near-infrared emission from active or stellar nuclei and perhaps to collimate radio jets and ionized outflows. Within the nuclear regions of these three galaxies, the molecular gas constitutes 10-50% of the total mass, with the most luminous systems having the highest gas mass-fractions.

Additional Information

© 1998 IAU. This research is supported in part by NSF Grant AST 96-13717 and the Norris Planetary Origins Project.

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January 14, 2024