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2 Institut d'Astrophysique, Université de Liège, Sart-Tilman, 4000 Liège, Belgium
Accepted: 19 July 2004
We report the results of several statistical tests performed on a large sample of 139 broad absorption line (BAL) QSOs with good quality optical spectra and/or optical polarization data. Correlations between ten optical indices and the polarization degree p0 are systematically searched for. We find six significant non-trivial correlations. In order to identify the most important correlations, we perform a principal component analysis with a sample of 30 BAL QSOs and eight quantities (including p0). Most of the variance (~) in the data is contained in two principal components called PC1 and PC2. PC1 is mainly dominated by the correlation between the balnicity index BI and the strength of the emission; it may be driven by the accretion rate of matter onto the central compact object. The variance in PC2 is essentially due to the anti-correlation between p0 and the detachment index DI, indicating that BAL QSOs with P Cygni profiles (DI≪) are usually more polarized than those objects with absorption troughs well detached from the corresponding emission lines (DI≫). We show that PC2 may be related to the orientation of the BAL QSOs with respect to the line of sight. We also present new spectropolarimetric observations of six BAL QSOs. By adding spectropolarimetric data from the literature, we build a sample of 21 BAL QSOs for which we define four spectropolarimetric indices describing the polarization properties of the absorption and emission lines. We find that the polarization of the emission line is systematically higher than the polarization of the emission line, and that the highest polarization in the troughs is correlated to the balnicity index. Another important result emerging from the statistical tests performed on this spectropolarimetric sample is a possible anti-correlation between the detachment index and a quantity SI which measures the ratio of the depths of the absorption in the polarized flux and in the total flux. This correlation indicates that in BAL QSOs with P cygni profiles, the BAL troughs in the polarized flux are nearly as deep as in the total flux while, in BAL QSOs with detached absorptions, the BAL troughs in the polarized flux are much weaker than in the total flux. We show that our main results may be explained in the framework of a “two-component” wind model which is a natural extension of the classical wind-from-disk models. In this model, the broad absorption occurs in a dense equatorial wind emerging from the accretion disk, while scattering and polarization mainly take place in a polar region. The orientation relative to the observer drives the correlations p0 – DI and DI – SI. While most of our observations can be explained within this framework, there are also several indications that other polarization mechanisms, and more particularly resonance scattering, may also be at work.
Key words: galaxies: quasars: general / galaxies: quasars: absorption lines / polarization
© ESO, 2004