Active Galactic Nuclei

Course: AGA5727 – Núcleos de Galáxias Ativas

Lecturers: Rodrigo Nemmen & João E. Steiner

Credits: 4 (60 h)


  1. Historical Overview (JS)
  2. AGN Classification and Unification (JS)
  3. The big picture of AGNs (RN)
  4. Review of basic concepts (RN)
  5. Nonthermal radiative processes (RN)
  6. Black holes (RN)
  7. Accretion flows (RN)
  8. Main Components of AGNs I (JS)
  9. Accretion flows (cont.) (RN)
  10. Observational signatures of accretion and outflows (RN)
  11. Host Galaxies of AGN (JS)
  12. Coevolution of massive black holes and galaxies (RN)
  13. (Some of the) Outstanding questions in the field (RN + JS)


This graduate course gives a general overview of the Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) phenomenon. The field of AGNs is erupting. From a narrow discipline dealing with massive active black holes (BHs) and their immediate surroundings, it now includes the host galaxies of such BHs, the co-evolution of BHs and galaxies, and the physics of extremely energetic phenomena such as gamma-ray jets. More than 1000 refereed articles are published every year about this topic, and the numbers are growing.


Observational picture • Central engine: Black holes and basics of accretion physics • Radiative processes • Physics of gas and dust • Outflows and jets from black holes ◻︎ AGN main components • AGN types and unification • AGN through the electromagnetic spectrum • Variability ◻︎ Host galaxies • Formation, evolution and the ultimate fate of AGN: Feedback ◻︎ Outstanding questions


The course will be divided in four main themes. The first is — after briefly presenting the broad observational picture — a comprehensive description of the main physical processes associated with AGNs: basics of black hole physics and accretion flows; physics of photoionized gas; dust in AGNs; nonthermal processes and spectral energy distributions; black hole outflows. The second is a detailed description of AGN phenomenology: AGN classes and the main components. These include radio-loud and radio-quiet AGNs, type-I and type-II sources, LINERs, blazars and radio galaxies, broad and narrow emission line regions, broad and narrow absorption lines, dusty tori, and X-ray-emitting gas near the BH. The third part deals with the various connections, evolutionary and others, between massive BHs and their host galaxies, including feedback in galaxies and in clusters of galaxies. The final part is about the outstanding open questions in the field.

The course will include phenomena based on new results in the X-ray and gamma-ray domain from telescopes such as Chandra, XMM-Newton, Swift and Fermi. Also: new developments such as numerical simulations of black hole accretion and AGN mergers, enabled through the latest supercomputers.


The primary reference for the course will consist of the first two books.

  • Netzer, H. Physics and Evolution of Active Galactic Nuclei. 2013, Cambridge University Press
  • Beckmann, V., & Shrader, C. Active Galactic Nuclei. 2012, Wiley
  • Several papers and review articles from Annual Review of Astronomy & Astrophysics and other scientific magazines
  • Blandford, R. D., Netzer, H. & Woltjer, L. Active Galactic Nuclei. Saas-Fee Advanced Course. 1990, Springer-Verlag
  • Carroll, B. W., & Ostlie, D. A. An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics. 2007, Pearson – Addison Wesley
  • Dermer, C. D., & Menon, G. High Energy Radiation from Black Holes. 2009, Princeton
  • Frank, J., King, A., & Raine, D. Accretion Power in Astrophysics. 2002, Cambridge University Press
  • Ghisellini, G. Radiative Processes in High Energy Astrophysics. 2013, Springer
  • Krolik, J. Active Galactic Nuclei: From the Central Black Hole to the Galactic Environment. 1998, Princeton
  • Osterbrock, D. E., & Ferland, G. J. Astrophysics of Gaseous Nebulae and Active Galactic Nuclei. 2006, University Science Books
  • Peterson, B. An Introduction to Active Galactic Nuclei. 1997, Cambridge University Press
  • Schneider, P. Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology: An Introduction. 2006, Springer

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