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Durham University

Department of Physics

Staff profile

Publication details for Prof Chris Done

Gardner, E. & Done, C. (2014). What powers the most relativistic jets? – I. BL Lacs. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 438(1): 779-788.

Author(s) from Durham


The dramatic relativistic jets pointing directly at us in BL Lacertae (BL Lac) objects can be well modelled by bulk motion beaming of synchrotron self-Compton emission powered by a low Eddington fraction accretion flow. Nearly 500 of these active galactic nuclei (AGN) are seen in the second Fermi Large Area Telescope catalogue of AGN. We combine the jet models which describe individual spectra with the expected jet parameter scalings with mass and mass accretion rate to predict the expected number of Fermi detected sources given the number densities of AGN from cosmological simulations. We select only sources with Eddington scaled mass accretion rate <0.01 (i.e. radiatively inefficient flows), and include cooling, orientation effects and the effects of absorption from pair production on the extragalactic infrared background. These models overpredict the number of Fermi detected BL Lacs by a factor of 1000! This clearly shows that one of the underlying assumptions is incorrect, almost certainly that jets do not scale simply with mass and accretion rate. The most plausible additional parameter which can affect the region producing the Fermi emission is black hole spin. We can reproduce the observed numbers of BL Lacs if such relativistic jets are only produced by the highest spin (a* > 0.8) black holes, in agreement with the longstanding spin–jet paradigm. This also requires that high spins are intrinsically rare, as predicted by the cosmological simulations for growing black hole mass via chaotic (randomly aligned) accretion episodes, where only the most massive black holes have high spin due to black hole–black hole mergers.