Measuring column densities in quasar outflows: VLT observations of QSO 2359-1241
We present high-resolution spectroscopic VLT observations of the outflow seen in QSO 2359-1241. These data contain absorption troughs from five resonance Fe II lines with a resolution of similar to 7 km s(-1) and a signal-to-noise ratio per resolution element of order 100. We use this unprecedented high-quality data set to investigate the physical distribution of the material in front of the source and by that to determine the column densities of the absorbed troughs. We find that the apparent optical depth model gives a very poor fit to the data and greatly underestimates the column density measurements. Power-law distributions and partial covering models give much better fits, with some advantage to power-law models, while both models yield similar column density estimates. The better fit of the power-law model solves a long-standing problem plaguing the partial covering model when applied to large distance scale outflow: how to obtain a velocity-dependent covering factor for an outflow situated at distances thousands of time greater than the size of the AGN emission source. This problem does not affect power-law models. Therefore, based on the better fit and plausibility of the physical model, we conclude that in QSO 2359-1241, the outflow covers the full extent of the emission source but in a nonhomogeneous way.