JWST view of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons and dust in local active galaxies

Ismael García Bernete
Date and time
18 Apr 2023 - 12:30 Europe/London


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Nowadays, it is widely accepted that most galaxies undergo an active phase in their evolution. The impact of the energy released by active galactic nuclei (AGN) in the interstellar medium (ISM) of the host galaxy has been proposed as a key mechanism responsible for regulating star formation (SF). The mid-infrared (IR) is the ideal spectral range to investigate the nuclear/circumnuclear regions of AGN since dust extinction is significantly lower compared to the visible range. Furthermore, it provides unique tracers to study the AGN-SF connection such as H2 rotational lines, fine structure lines and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are also a powerful tool to characterize the ISM in different environments.

Recently, we presented new JWST/MIRI MRS spectroscopy of three Seyfert AGN in which we compare their nuclear PAH emission with that of star-forming regions. This study represents the first of its kind to use sub-arcsecond angular resolution data of local luminous Seyferts (Lbol > 10^44.5 erg/s) with a wide wavelength coverage (4.9-28.1 μm). Our results showed that a suite of PAH features is present in the innermost parts of these Seyfert galaxies. We found that the nuclear regions of AGN lie at different positions of the PAH diagnostic diagrams, whereas the SF regions are concentrated around the average values of SF galaxies. Furthermore, we find that the nuclear PAH emission mainly originates in neutral PAHs while, in contrast, PAH emission originating in the star forming regions favours small ionised PAH grains. Therefore, our results provide evidence that the AGN have a significant impact on the ionization state and size of the PAH grains on scales of ~142-245 pc. This is fundamental since PAH bands are routinely used to measure star-formation activity in near and far SF and active galaxies.

Finally, I will summarise our ongoing JWST work within the GATOS (Galactic Activity, Torus and Outflow Survey) collaboration. In particular, I will focus on our recent study about the survival of PAH molecules in AGN-driven outflows.