We present J, H and K-band spectroscopy of Cygnus A, spanning 1.0–2.4 μm in the rest-frame and hence several rovibrational H2, H recombination and [Fe ii] emission lines. The lines are spatially extended by up to 6 kpc from the nucleus, but their distinct kinematics indicate that the three groups (H, H2 and [Fe ii]) are not wholly produced in the same gas. The broadest line, [Fe ii]λ1.644, exhibits a non-Gaussian profile with a broad base (FWHM≃1040 km s−1), perhaps because of the interaction with the radio source. Extinctions to the line-emitting regions substantially exceed earlier measurements based on optical H recombination lines.
Hard X-rays from the quasar nucleus are likely to dominate the excitation of the H2 emission. The results of Maloney, Hollenbach & Tielens are thus used to infer the total mass of gas in H2 v=1–0 S(1)-emitting clouds as a function of radius, for gas densities of 103 and 105 cm−3, and stopping column densities NH=1022–1024 cm−2. Assuming azimuthal symmetry, at least 2.3×108 M⊙ of such material is present within 5 kpc of the nucleus, if the line-emitting clouds see an unobscured quasar spectrum. Alternatively, if the bulk of the X-ray absorption to the nucleus inferred by Ueno et al. actually arises in a circumnuclear torus, the implied gas mass rises to ∼1010 M⊙. The latter plausibly accounts for 109 yr of mass deposition from the cluster cooling flow, for which within this radius.