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Astrophysical Journal



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NGC 4261 (3C 270) is an elliptical galaxy containing a 300 pc–scale nuclear disk of gas and dust imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), around a central supermassive black hole. Previous VLBI observations of NGC 4261 revealed a gap in emission in the radio counterjet, presumably due to free-free absorption in the inner parsec of the accretion disk. Here we present three 8 GHz VLBA observations of NGC 4261 that allow us to monitor the location and depth of the gap and check for motions in the jet and counterjet. The separation between the brightest peak and the gap is stable, with an upper limit to its motion of 0.01c, supporting the interpretation of the gap as absorption by an accretion disk rather than as an intrinsic jet feature. These observations span a time of order that required for orbiting material in the disk to transit the counterjet, so we are able to search for density changes (clumps) in the disk by monitoring the optical depth of the gap. The optical depth of the gap is stable to within 20% over 5 years at τ = 1.1 ± 0.1, corresponding to an electron density in the disk that is constant to within 10%. We measure an apparent speed in the jet of (0.52 ± 0.07)c. An apparent speed could not be measured for the counterjet because of a lack of identifiable features. From the apparent jet speed and the jet-to-counterjet brightness ratio, we calculate the viewing angle of the jet to be 63° ± 3° and its intrinsic speed to be (0.46 ± 0.02)c. From the inclination and position angles of the parsec-scale radio jet and outer HST disk rotation axis we calculate a difference between the parsec-scale radio jet and outer HST disk rotation axis of 12° ± 2°. Because of its well-defined HST disk and bright parsec-scale radio jet and counterjet, NGC 4261 is ideal for studying the combined disk-jet system, and this is the first case known to us in which both the inclination and position angles of both the disk and jet have been determined.

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