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Title: Using AGN light curves to map accretion disc temperature fluctuations
ABSTRACT We introduce a new model for understanding AGN continuum variability. We start from a Shakura–Sunyaev thin accretion disc with a steady-state radial temperature profile T(R) and assume that the variable flux is due to axisymmetric temperature perturbations δT(R, t). After linearizing the equations, we fit UV–optical AGN light curves to determine δT(R, t) for a sample of seven AGNs. We see a diversity of |δT/T| ∼ 0.1 fluctuation patterns which are not dominated by outgoing waves travelling at the speed of light as expected for the ‘lamppost’ model used to interpret disc reverberation mapping studies. Rather, the most common pattern resembles slow (v ≪ c) ingoing waves. An explanation for our findings is that these ingoing waves trigger central temperature fluctuations that act as a lamppost, producing lower amplitude temperature fluctuations moving outwards at the speed of light. The light curves are dominated by the lamppost signal – even though the temperature fluctuations are dominated by other structures with similar variability time-scales – because the discs exponentially smooth the contributions from the slower moving (v ≪ c) fluctuations to the observed light curves. This leads to light curves that closely resemble the expectations for a lamppost model but with the slow variability time-scales of the ingoing waves. This also implies that longer time-scale variability signals will increasingly diverge from lamppost models because the smoothing of slower moving waves steadily decreases as their period or spatial wavelength increases.  more » « less
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Journal Name:
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Page Range / eLocation ID:
1046 to 1062
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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