Black hole spin and the radio loud/quiet dichotomy of active galactic nuclei

Alexander Tchekhovskoy*, Ramesh Narayan, Jonathan C. McKinney

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

281 Scopus citations


Radio loud active galactic nuclei (AGNs) are on average 1000 times brighter in the radio band compared to radio quiet AGNs. We investigate whether this radio loud/quiet dichotomy can be due to differences in the spin of the central black holes (BHs) that power the radio-emitting jets. Using general relativistic magnetohydrodynamic simulations, we construct steady state axisymmetric numerical models for a wide range of BH spins (dimensionless spin parameter 0.1 ≤ a ≤ 0.9999) and a variety of jet geometries. We assume that the total magnetic flux through the BH horizon at radius r H(a) is held constant. If the BH is surrounded by a thin accretion disk, we find that the total BH power output depends approximately quadratically on the angular frequency of the hole, P Ω2 H (a/r H)2. We conclude that, in this scenario, differences in the BH spin can produce power variations of only a few tens at most. However, if the disk is thick such that the jet subtends a narrow solid angle around the polar axis, then the power dependence becomes much steeper, P Ω4 H or even Ω6 H. Power variations of 1000 are then possible for realistic BH spin distributions. We derive an analytic solution that accurately reproduces the steeper scaling of jet power with ΩH and we provide a numerical fitting formula that reproduces all our simulation results. We discuss other physical effects that might contribute to the observed radio loud/quiet dichotomy of AGNs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)50-63
Number of pages14
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2010


  • Accretion, accretion disks
  • Black hole physics
  • Galaxies: jets
  • Galaxies: nuclei
  • Magnetohydrodynamics (MHD)
  • Quasars: general
  • Relativistic processes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Black hole spin and the radio loud/quiet dichotomy of active galactic nuclei'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this