Seyfert galaxies are one of the two largest groups of active galaxies, along with quasars. They have quasar-like nuclei (very luminous, distant and bright sources of electromagnetic radiation) with very high surface brightnesses whose spectra reveal strong, high-ionisation emission lines, but unlike quasars, their host galaxies are clearly detectable.
Seyfert galaxies account for about 10% of all galaxies and are some of the most intensely studied objects in astronomy, as they are thought to be powered by the same phenomena that occur in quasars, although they are closer and less luminous than quasars. These galaxies have supermassive black holes at their centers which are surrounded by accretion discs of in-falling material. The accretion discs are believed to be the source of the observed ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet emission and absorption lines provide the best diagnostics for the composition of the surrounding material.
Seen in visible light, most Seyfert galaxies look like normal spiral galaxies, but when studied under other wavelengths, it becomes clear that the luminosity of their cores is of comparable intensity to the luminosity of whole galaxies the size of the Milky Way.
Seyfert galaxies were first detected in 1908 by Edward A. Fath and Vesto Slipher, who were using the Lick Observatory to look at the spectra of astronomical objects that were thought to be "spiral nebulae". They noticed that NGC 1068 showed six bright emission lines, which was considered unusual as most objects observed showed an absorption spectrum corresponding to stars.
In 1926, Edwin Hubble looked at the emission lines of NGC 1068 and two other such "nebulae" and classified them as extragalactic objects. In 1943, Carl Keenan Seyfert discovered more galaxies similar to NGC 1068 and reported that these galaxies have very bright stellar-like nuclei that produce broad emission lines. In 1944 Cygnus A was detected at 160 MHz, and detection was confirmed in 1948 when it was established that it was a discrete source. Its double radio structure became apparent with the use of interferometry. In the next few years, other radio sources such as supernova remnants were discovered. By the end of the 1950s, more important characteristics of Seyfert galaxies were discovered, including the fact that their nuclei are extremely compact (< 100 pc, i.e. "unresolved"), have high mass (≈109±1 solar masses), and the duration of peak nuclear emissions is relatively short (> 108 years).
In the 1960s and 1970s, research to further understand the properties of Seyfert galaxies was carried out. A few direct measurements of the actual sizes of Seyfert nuclei were taken, and it was established that the emission lines in NGC 1068 were produced in a region over a thousand light years in diameter. Controversy existed over whether Seyfert redshifts were of cosmological origin. Confirming estimates of the distance to Seyfert galaxies and their age were limited since their nuclei vary in brightness over a time scale of a few years; therefore arguments involving distance to such galaxies and the constant speed of light cannot always be used to determine their age. In the same time period, research had been undertaken to survey, identify and catalogue galaxies, including Seyferts. Beginning in 1967, Benjamin Markarian published lists containing a few hundred galaxies distinguished by their very strong ultraviolet emission, with measurements on the position of some of them being improved in 1973 by other researchers. At the time, it was believed that 1% of spiral galaxies are Seyferts. By 1977, it was found that very few Seyfert galaxies are ellipticals, most of them being spiral or barred spiral galaxies. During the same time period, efforts have been made to gather spectrophotometric data for Seyfert galaxies. It became obvious that not all spectra from Seyfert galaxies look the same, so they have been subclassified according to the characteristics of their emission spectra. A simple division into types I and II has been devised, with the classes depending on the relative width of their emission lines. It has been later noticed that some Seyfert nuclei show intermediate properties, resulting in their being further subclassified into types 1.2, 1.5, 1.8 and 1.9 (see Classification). Early surveys for Seyfert galaxies were biased in counting only the brightest representatives of this group. More recent surveys that count galaxies with low-luminosity and obscured Seyfert nuclei suggest that the Seyfert phenomenon is actually quite common, occurring in 16% ± 5% of galaxies; indeed, several dozen galaxies exhibiting the Seyfert phenomenon exist in the close vicinity (≈27 Mpc) of our own galaxy. Seyfert galaxies form a substantial fraction of the galaxies appearing in the Markarian catalog, a list of galaxies displaying an ultraviolet excess in their nuclei.
An active galactic nucleus (AGN) is a compact region at the center of a galaxy that has a higher than normal luminosity over portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. A galaxy having an active nucleus is called an active galaxy. Active galactic nuclei are the most luminous sources of electromagnetic radiation in the Universe, and their evolution puts constraints on cosmological models. Depending on the type, their luminosity varies over a timescale from a few hours to a few years. The two largest subclasses of active galaxies are quasars and Seyfert galaxies, the main difference between the two being the amount of radiation they emit. In a typical Seyfert galaxy, the nuclear source emits at visible wavelengths an amount of radiation comparable to that of the whole galaxy's constituent stars, while in a quasar, the nuclear source is brighter than the constituent stars by at least a factor of 100. Seyfert galaxies have extremely bright nuclei, with luminosities ranging between 108 and 1011 solar luminosities. Only about 5% of them are radio bright; their emissions are moderate in gamma rays and bright in X-rays. Their visible and infrared spectra shows very bright emission lines of hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, and oxygen. These emission lines exhibit strong Doppler broadening, which implies velocities from 500 to 4,000 km/s (310 to 2,490 mi/s), and are believed to originate near an accretion disc surrounding the central black hole.
A lower limit to the mass of the central black hole can be calculated using the Eddington luminosity. This limit arises because light exhibits radiation pressure. Assume that a black hole is surrounded by a disc of luminous gas. Both the attractive gravitational force acting on electron-ion pairs in the disc and the repulsive force exerted by radiation pressure follow an inverse-square law. If the gravitational force exerted by the black hole is less than the repulsive force due to radiation pressure, the disc will be blown away by radiation pressure.[note 1]
The emission lines seen on the spectrum of a Seyfert galaxy may come from the surface of the accretion disc itself, or may come from clouds of gas illuminated by the central engine in an ionization cone. The exact geometry of the emitting region is difficult to determine due to poor resolution of the galactic center. However, each part of the accretion disc has a different velocity relative to our line of sight, and the faster the gas is rotating around the black hole, the broader the emission line will be. Similarly, an illuminated disc wind also has a position-dependent velocity.
The narrow lines are believed to originate from the outer part of the active galactic nucleus, where velocities are lower, while the broad lines originate closer to the black hole. This is confirmed by the fact that the narrow lines do not vary detectably, which implies that the emitting region is large, contrary to the broad lines which can vary on relatively short timescales. Reverberation mapping is a technique which uses this variability to try to determine the location and morphology of the emitting region. This technique measures the structure and kinematics of the broad line emitting region by observing the changes in the emitted lines as a response to changes in the continuum. The use of reverberation mapping requires the assumption that the continuum originates in a single central source. For 35 AGN, reverberation mapping has been used to calculate the mass of the central black holes and the size of the broad line regions.
In the few radio-loud Seyfert galaxies that have been observed, the radio emission is believed to represent synchrotron emission from the jet. The infrared emission is due to radiation in other bands being reprocessed by dust near the nucleus. The highest energy photons are believed to be created by inverse Compton scattering by a high temperature corona near the black hole.
Seyferts were first classified as Type I or II, depending on the emission lines shown by their spectra. The spectra of Type I Seyfert galaxies show broad lines that include both allowed lines, like H I, He I or He II and narrower forbidden lines, like O III. They show some narrower allowed lines as well, but even these narrow lines are much broader than the lines shown by normal galaxies. However, the spectra of Type II Seyfert galaxies show only narrow lines, both permitted and forbidden. Forbidden lines are spectral lines that occur due to electron transitions not normally allowed by the selection rules of quantum mechanics, but that still have a small probability of spontaneously occurring. The term "forbidden" is slightly misleading, as the electron transitions causing them are not forbidden but highly improbable.
In some cases, the spectra show both broad and narrow permitted lines, which is why they are classified as an intermediate type between Type I and Type II, such as Type 1.5 Seyfert. The spectra of some of these galaxies have changed from Type 1.5 to Type II in a matter of a few years. However, the characteristic broad Hα emission line has rarely, if ever, disappeared. The origin of the differences between Type I and Type II Seyfert galaxies is not known yet. There are a few cases where galaxies have been identified as Type II only because the broad components of the spectral lines have been very hard to detect. It is believed by some that all Type II Seyferts are in fact Type I, where the broad components of the lines are impossible to detect because of the angle we are at with respect to the galaxy. Specifically, in Type I Seyfert galaxies, we observe the central compact source more or less directly, therefore sampling the high velocity clouds in the broad line emission region moving around the supermassive black hole thought to be at the center of the galaxy. By contrast, in Type II Seyfert galaxies, the active nuclei are obscured and only the colder outer regions located further away from the clouds' broad line emission region are seen. This theory is known as the "Unification scheme" of Seyfert galaxies. However, it is not yet clear if this hypothesis can explain all the observed differences between the two types.
Type I Seyferts are very bright sources of ultraviolet light and X-rays in addition to the visible light coming from their cores. They have two sets of emission lines on their spectra: narrow lines with widths (measured in velocity units) of several hundred km/s, and broad lines with widths up to 104 km/s. The broad lines originate above the accretion disc of the supermassive black hole thought to power the galaxy, while the narrow lines occur beyond the broad line region of the accretion disc. Both emissions are caused by heavily ionised gas. The broad line emission arises in a region 0.1-1 parsec across. The broad line emission region, RBLR, can be estimated from the time delay corresponding to the time taken by light to travel from the continuum source to the line-emitting gas.
Type II Seyfert galaxies have the characteristic bright core, as well as appearing bright when viewed at infrared wavelengths. Their spectra contain narrow lines associated with forbidden transitions, and broad lines associated with allowed strong dipole or intercombination transitions. In some Type II Seyfert galaxies, analysis with a technique called spectro-polarimetry (spectroscopy of polarised light component) revealed obscured type I regions. In the case of NGC 1068, nuclear light reflected off a dust cloud was measured, which led scientists to believe in the presence of an obscuring dust torus around a bright continuum and broad emission line nucleus. When the galaxy is viewed from the side, the nucleus is indirectly observed through reflection by gas and dust above and below the torus. This reflection causes the polarisation.
In 1981, Donald Osterbrock introduced the notations Seyfert 1.5, 1.8 and 1.9, where the subclasses are based on the optical appearance of the spectrum, with the numerically larger subclasses having weaker broad-line components relative to the narrow lines. For example, Type 1.9 only shows a broad component in the Hα line, and not in higher order Balmer lines. In Type 1.8, very weak broad lines can be detected in the Hβ lines as well as Hα, even if they are very weak compared to the Hα. In Type 1.5, the strength of the Hα and Hβ lines are comparable.
In addition to the Seyfert progression from Type I to Type II (including Type 1.2 to Type 1.9), there are other types of galaxies that are very similar to Seyferts or that can be considered as subclasses of them. Very similar to Seyferts are the low-ionisation narrow-line emission radio galaxies (LINER), discovered in 1980. These galaxies have strong emission lines from weakly ionised or neutral atoms, while the emission lines from strongly ionised atoms are relatively weak by comparison. LINERs share a large amount of traits with low luminosity Seyferts. In fact, when seen in visible light, the global characteristics of their host galaxies are indistinguishable. Also, they both show a broad line emission region, but the line emitting region in LINERs has a lower density than in Seyferts. An example of such a galaxy is M104 in the Virgo constellation, also known as the Sombrero galaxy. A galaxy that is both a LINER and a Type I Seyfert is NGC 7213, a galaxy that is relatively close compared to other AGNs. Another very interesting subclass are the narrow line Seyfert I galaxies (NLSy1), which have been subject to extensive research in recent years. They have much narrower lines than the broad lines from classic Seyfert I galaxies, steep hard and soft X-ray spectra and strong Fe[II] emission. Their properties suggest that NLSy1 galaxies are young AGNs with high accretion rates, suggesting a relatively small but growing central black hole mass. There are theories suggesting that NLSy1s are galaxies in an early stage of evolution, and links between them and ultraluminous infrared galaxies or Seyfert II galaxies have been proposed.
The majority of active galaxies are very distant and show large Doppler shifts. This suggests that active galaxies occurred in the early Universe and, due to cosmic inflation, are receding away from the Milky Way at very high speeds. Quasars are the furthest active galaxies, some of them being observed at distances 12 billion light years away. Seyfert galaxies are much closer than quasars. Because light has a finite speed, looking across large distances in the Universe is equivalent to looking back in time. Therefore, the observation of active galactic nuclei at large distances and their scarcity in the nearby Universe suggests that they were much more common in the early Universe, implying that active galactic nuclei could be early stages of galactic evolution. This leads to the question about what would be the local (modern-day) counterparts of AGNs found at large redshifts. It has been proposed that NLSy1s could be the small redshift counterparts of quasars found at large redshifts (z>4). The two have many similar properties, for example: high metallicities or similar pattern of emission lines (strong Fe [II], weak O [III]). Some observations suggest that AGN emission from the nucleus is not spherically symmetric and that the nucleus often shows axial symmetry, with radiation escaping in a conical region. Based on these observations, models have been devised to explain the different classes of AGNs as due to their different orientations with respect to the observational line of sight. Such models are called unified models. Unified models explain the difference between Seyfert I and Seyfert II galaxies as being the result of Seyfert II galaxies being surrounded by obscuring toruses which prevent telescopes from seeing the broad line region. Quasars and blazars can be fit quite easily in this model. The main problem of such an unification scheme is trying to explain why some AGN are radio loud while others are radio quiet. It has been suggested that these differences may be due to differences in the spin of the central black hole.
Here are some examples of Seyfert galaxies:
3C 215 is a Seyfert galaxy / Quasar located in the constellation Cancer.3C 303
3C 303 is a Seyfert galaxy with a quasar-like appearance located in the constellation Boötes.3C 438
3C 438 is a Seyfert galaxy located in the constellation Cygnus.3C 452
3C 452 is a Seyfert galaxy located in the constellation Lacerta.3C 61.1
3C 61.1 is a Seyfert galaxy located in the constellation Cepheus.3C 79
3C 79 is a Seyfert Galaxy located in the constellation Aries. The extended emission-line region (EELR) is almost certainly photoionized by the hidden quasar.Circinus Galaxy
The Circinus Galaxy (ESO 97-G13) is a Seyfert galaxy in the constellation of Circinus. It is located 4 degrees below the Galactic plane, and, at a distance of 4.0 Mpc (13 Mly), and is one of the closest galaxies to the Milky Way. The galaxy is undergoing tumultuous changes, as rings of gas are likely being ejected from the galaxy. Its outermost ring is 1400 light-years across while the inner ring is 260 light-years across. Although the Circinus galaxy can be seen using a small telescope, it was not noticed until 1977 because it lies close to the plane of the Milky Way and is obscured by galactic dust. The Circinus Galaxy is a Type II Seyfert galaxy and is one of the closest known active galaxies to the Milky Way, though it is probably slightly farther away than Centaurus A.
Circinus Galaxy produced supernova SN 1996cr, which was identified over a decade after it exploded. This supernova event was first observed during 2001 as a bright, variable object in a Chandra X-ray Observatory image, but it was not confirmed as a supernova until years later.
The Circinus Galaxy is one of twelve large galaxies in the "Council of Giants" surrounding the Local Group in the Local Sheet.NGC 1019
NGC 1019 is a barred spiral galaxy approximately 316 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Cetus. It was discovered by French astronomer Édouard Stephan on December 1, 1880 with the 31" reflector at the Marseille Observatory.NGC 1019 is classified as Type I Seyfert galaxy. It's nuclei is surrounded by tight rings or annuli of star formation, and the rings contain compact, young star clusters.NGC 1808
NGC 1808 is a Seyfert galaxy located in the constellation Columba. The Supernova 1993af appeared in NGC 1808.NGC 185
NGC 185 (also known as Caldwell 18) is a dwarf spheroidal galaxy located 2.08 million light-years from Earth, appearing in the constellation Cassiopeia. It is a member of the Local Group, and is a satellite of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). NGC 185 was discovered by William Herschel on November 30, 1787, and he cataloged it "H II.707". John Herschel observed the object again in 1833 when he cataloged it as "h 35", and then in 1864 when he cataloged it as "GC 90" within his General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters. NGC 185 was first photographed between 1898 and 1900 by James Edward Keeler with the Crossley Reflector of Lick Observatory. Unlike most dwarf elliptical galaxies, NGC 185 contains young stellar clusters, and star formation proceeded at a low rate until the recent past. NGC 185 has an active galactic nucleus (AGN) and is usually classified as a type 2 Seyfert galaxy, though its status as a Seyfert is questioned. It is possibly the closest Seyfert galaxy to Earth, and is the only known Seyfert in the Local Group.NGC 3147
NGC 3147 is a spiral galaxy located in the constellation Draco. It is located at a distance of circa 130 million light years from Earth, which, given its apparent dimensions, means that NGC 3147 is about 140,000 light years across. It was discovered by William Herschel οn
April 3, 1785. It is a Type II Seyfert galaxy.NGC 4151
NGC 4151 is an intermediate spiral seyfert galaxy with weak inner ring structure located 19 megaparsecs (62 million light-years) from Earth in the constellation Canes Venatici. The galaxy was first mentioned by William Herschel on March 17, 1787; it was one of the two Seyfert galaxies described in the paper which defined the term. It is one of the nearest galaxies to Earth to contain an actively growing supermassive black hole; it was speculated that the nucleus may host a binary black hole, with about 40 million and about 10 million solar masses respectively, orbiting with a 15.8-year period. This is, however, still a matter of active debate.
Some astronomers nickname it the "Eye of Sauron" from its appearance.NGC 426
NGC 426 is an elliptical galaxy that is also classified as a Seyfert galaxy. It is located in the constellation of Cetus, and it was discovered on December 20, 1786 by William Herschel.NGC 4477
NGC 4477 is a barred lenticular galaxy located about 55 million light-years away in the constellation of Coma Berenices. NGC 4477 is classified as a type 2 seyfert galaxy. The galaxy was discovered by astronomer William Herschel on April 8, 1784. NGC 4477 is a member of Markarian's Chain which forms part of the larger Virgo Cluster.NGC 4639
NGC 4639 is a barred spiral galaxy located in the constellation Virgo. It lies over 70 million light-years away from planet Earth. Its core contains a massive black hole. NGC 4639 is also classified as a Seyfert galaxy. NGC 4639 is a member of the Virgo Cluster.NGC 5929
NGC 5929 is a Seyfert galaxy in the constellation Boötes. The pair of galaxies, NGC 5929 and NGC 5930, are interacting.NGC 5930
NGC 5930 is a starburst galaxy in the constellation Boötes that is interacting with the nearby Seyfert galaxy NGC 5929. 5930 has a morphological classification of SAB(rs)b pec, indicating that it is a weakly-barred spiral galaxy with a poorly defined nuclear ring structure. It is inclined at an angle of 46° to the line of sight from the Earth.NGC 6814
NGC 6814 is an intermediate spiral galaxy in constellation Aquila. It is located at a distance of about 75 million light years from Earth, which, given its apparent dimensions, means that NGC 6814 is about 85,000 light years across. NGC 6814 has an extremely bright nucleus and is a type 1.5 Seyfert galaxy. The galaxy is also a highly variable source of X-ray radiation. The ultraviolet and optical emission also varies, although more smoothly, with time lag of two days. The cause of the lag and the smoothing of light curves is considered to be the reprocessing of the X-rays in the accretion disk. The cause of the active galactic nucleus is suspected to be a supermassive black hole with a mass about 18 million times that of the Sun. Many regions of ionised gas are studded along the dusty spiral arms.NGC 7742
NGC 7742 also known as Fried Egg Galaxy is a face-on unbarred spiral galaxy in the constellation Pegasus.
The galaxy is unusual in that it contains a ring but no bar. Typically, bars are needed to produce a ring structure. The bars' gravitational forces move gas to the ends of the bars, where it forms into the rings seen in many barred spiral galaxies. In this galaxy, however, no bar is present, so this mechanism cannot be used to explain the formation of the ring. O. K. Sil'chenko and A. V. Moiseev proposed that the ring was formed partly as the result of a merger event in which a smaller gas-rich dwarf galaxy collided with NGC 7742. As evidence for this, they point to the unusually bright central region, the presence of highly inclined central gas disk, and the presence of gas that is counterrotating (or rotating in the opposite direction) with respect to the stars.Two Type II supernovae, SN 1993R and SN 2014cy, have been detected in NGC 7742.