A recent ultraviolet snapshot imaging survey of the nuclei of nearby galaxies detected a compact nuclear ultraviolet source in only five of the 26 LINERs (low-ionization nuclear emission-line regions) included in the observed sample. Motivated by this observational result, we examine the possibility that all LINERs are powered by photoionization from a nuclear source, which is, however, active only for 20% of the time. We show that the decay times of low-ionization species can be of the order of one to a few centuries, and we demonstrate through time-dependent photoionization calculations that if the nuclear ionizing source is active for only a fraction of the time, this would not be readily noticeable in the emission-line spectrum. We suggest that the activity cycle is related to episodic accretion events which are associated with the tidal disruption of stars by a central black hole. The time interval between tidal disruptions is of the same order as the emission-line decay time, with the accretion episode following each disruption lasting a few decades. These estimates appear to support the duty cycle hypothesis. Some observational consequences of the proposed scenario are also discussed.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science