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  1. Abstract

    Periodic signatures in time-domain observations of quasars have been used to search for binary supermassive black holes (SMBHs). These searches, across existing time-domain surveys, have produced several hundred candidates. The general stochastic variability of quasars, however, can masquerade as a false-positive periodic signal, especially when monitoring cadence and duration are limited. In this work, we predict the detectability of binary SMBHs in the upcoming Rubin Observatory Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST). We apply computationally inexpensive sinusoidal curve fits to millions of simulated LSST Deep Drilling Field light curves of both single, isolated quasars and binary quasars. The period and phase of simulated binary signals can generally be disentangled from quasar variability. Binary amplitude is overestimated and poorly recovered for two-thirds of potential binaries due to quasar accretion variability. Quasars with strong intrinsic variability can obscure a binary signal too much for recovery. We also find that the most luminous quasars mimic current binary candidate light curves and their properties: The false-positive rates are 60% for these quasars. The reliable recovery of binary period and phase for a wide range of input binary LSST light curves is promising for multi-messenger characterization of binary SMBHs. However, pure electromagnetic detections of binaries using photometric periodicity with amplitude greater than 0.1 mag will result in samples that are overwhelmed by false positives. This paper represents an important and computationally inexpensive way forward for understanding the true and false-positive rates for binary candidates identified by Rubin.

     
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  2. Abstract Supermassive black hole binaries (SMBHBs) are an inevitable consequence of galaxy mergers. At sub-parsec separations, they are practically impossible to resolve, and the most promising technique is to search for quasars with periodic variability. However, searches for quasar periodicity in time-domain data are challenging due to the stochastic variability of quasars. In this paper, we used Bayesian methods to disentangle periodic SMBHB signals from intrinsic damped random walk (DRW) variability in active galactic nuclei light curves. We simulated a wide variety of realistic DRW and DRW+sine light curves. Their observed properties are modeled after the Catalina Real-time Transient Survey (CRTS) and expected properties of the upcoming Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) from the Vera C. Rubin Observatory. Through a careful analysis of parameter estimation and Bayesian model selection, we investigated the range of parameter space for which binary systems can be detected. We also examined which DRW signals can mimic periodicity and be falsely classified as binary candidates. We found that periodic signals are more easily detectable if the period is short or the amplitude of the signal is large compared to the contribution of the DRW noise. We saw similar detection rates both in the CRTS and LSST-like simulations, while the false-detection rate depends on the quality of the data and is minimal in LSST. Our idealized simulations provide an excellent way to uncover the intrinsic limitations in quasar periodicity searches and set the stage for future searches for SMBHBs. 
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  3. ABSTRACT

    We present a study of optically selected dual Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) with projected separations of 3–97 kpc. Using multiwavelength (MWL) information (optical, X-ray, mid-IR), we characterized the intrinsic nuclear properties of this sample and compared them with those of isolated systems. Among the 124 X-ray-detected AGN candidates, 52 appear in pairs and 72 as single X-ray sources. Through MWL analysis, we confirmed the presence of the AGN in >80 per cent of the detected targets in pairs (42 out of 52). X-ray spectral analysis confirms the trend of increasing AGN luminosity with decreasing separation, suggesting that mergers may have contributed to triggering more luminous AGN. Through X-ray/mid-IR ratio versus X-ray colours, we estimated a fraction of Compton-thin AGN (with 1022 cm−2 < NH < 1024 cm−2) of about 80 per cent, while about 16 per cent are Compton-thick sources (with NH > 1024 cm−2). These fractions of obscured sources are larger than those found in samples of isolated AGN, confirming that pairs of AGN show higher obscuration. This trend is further confirmed by comparing the de-reddened [O iii] emission with the observed X-ray luminosity. However, the derived fraction of Compton-thick sources in this sample at the early stages of merging is lower than that reported for late-merging dual-AGN samples. Comparing NH from X-rays with that derived from E(B − V) from narrow-line regions, we found that the absorbing material is likely to be associated with the torus or broad-line regions. We also explored the X-ray detection efficiency of dual-AGN candidates, finding that, when observed properly (at on-axis positions and with long exposures), X-ray data represent a powerful way to confirm and investigate dual-AGN systems.

     
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  4. ABSTRACT

    Supermassive black hole binaries (SMBHBs) are a natural outcome of galaxy mergers and should form frequently in galactic nuclei. Sub-parsec binaries can be identified from their bright electromagnetic emission, e.g. Active Galactic Nuclei (AGNs) with Doppler shifted broad emission lines or AGN with periodic variability, as well as from the emission of strong gravitational radiation. The most massive binaries (with total mass >108M⊙) emit in the nanohertz band and are targeted by Pulsar Timing Arrays (PTAs). Here we examine the synergy between electromagnetic and gravitational wave signatures of SMBHBs. We connect both signals to the orbital dynamics of the binary and examine the common link between them, laying the foundation for joint multimessenger observations. We find that periodic variability arising from relativistic Doppler boost is the most promising electromagnetic signature to connect with GWs. We delineate the parameter space (binary total mass/chirp mass versus binary period/GW frequency) for which joint observations are feasible. Currently multimessenger detections are possible only for the most massive and nearby galaxies, limited by the sensitivity of PTAs. However, we demonstrate that as PTAs collect more data in the upcoming years, the overlapping parameter space is expected to expand significantly.

     
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  5. Supermassive black hole binaries (SMBHBs) are an inevitable consequence of galaxy mergers. At sub-parsec separations, they are practically impossible to resolve and the most promising technique is to search for quasars with periodic variability. However, searches for quasar periodicity in time-domain data are challenging due to the stochastic variability of quasars. In this paper, we used Bayesian methods to disentangle periodic SMBHB signals from intrinsic damped random walk (DRW) variability in AGN light curves. We simulated a wide variety of realistic DRW and DRW+sine light curves. Their observed properties are modeled after the Catalina Real-time Transient Survey (CRTS) and expected properties of the upcoming Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) from the Vera C. Rubin Observatory. Through a careful analysis of parameter estimation and Bayesian model selection, we investigated the range of parameter space for which binary systems can be detected. We also examined which DRW signals can mimic periodicity and be falsely classified as binary candidates. We found that periodic signals are more easily detectable if the period is short or the amplitude of the signal is large compared to the contribution of the DRW noise. We saw similar detection rates both in the CRTS and LSST-like simulations, while the false detection rate depends on the quality of the data and is minimal in LSST. Our idealized simulations provide an excellent way to uncover the intrinsic limitations in quasar periodicity searches and set the stage for future searches for SMBHBs. 
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  6. ABSTRACT The variability of quasars across multiple wavelengths is a useful probe of physical conditions in active galactic nuclei. In particular, variable accretion rates, instabilities, and reverberation effects in the accretion disc of a supermassive black hole are expected to produce correlated flux variations in ultraviolet (UV) and optical bands. Recent work has further argued that binary quasars should exhibit strongly correlated UV and optical periodicities. Strong UV–optical correlations have indeed been established in small samples of (N ≲ 30) quasars with well-sampled light curves, and have extended the ‘bluer-when-brighter’ trend previously found within the optical bands. Here, we further test the nature of quasar variability by examining the observed-frame UV–optical correlations among bright quasars extracted from the Half Million Quasars (HMQ) catalogue. We identified a large sample of 1315 quasars in HMQ with overlapping UV and optical light curves from the Galaxy Evolution Explorer and the Catalina Real-time Transient Survey, respectively. We find that strong correlations exist in this much larger sample, but we rule out, at ∼95 per cent confidence, the simple hypothesis that the intrinsic UV and optical variations of all quasars are fully correlated. Our results therefore imply the existence of physical mechanism(s) that can generate uncorrelated optical and UV flux variations. 
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  7. Abstract

    The radio galaxy 3C 66B has been hypothesized to host a supermassive black hole binary (SMBHB) at its center based on electromagnetic observations. Its apparent 1.05 yr period and low redshift (∼0.02) make it an interesting testbed to search for low-frequency gravitational waves (GWs) using pulsar timing array (PTA) experiments. This source has been subjected to multiple searches for continuous GWs from a circular SMBHB, resulting in progressively more stringent constraints on its GW amplitude and chirp mass. In this paper, we develop a pipeline for performing Bayesian targeted searches for eccentric SMBHBs in PTA data sets, and test its efficacy by applying it to simulated data sets with varying injected signal strengths. We also search for a realistic eccentric SMBHB source in 3C 66B using the NANOGrav 12.5 yr data set employing PTA signal models containing Earth term-only as well as Earth+pulsar term contributions using this pipeline. Due to limitations in our PTA signal model, we get meaningful results only when the initial eccentricitye0< 0.5 and the symmetric mass ratioη> 0.1. We find no evidence for an eccentric SMBHB signal in our data, and therefore place 95% upper limits on the PTA signal amplitude of 88.1 ± 3.7 ns for the Earth term-only and 81.74 ± 0.86 ns for the Earth+pulsar term searches fore0< 0.5 andη> 0.1. Similar 95% upper limits on the chirp mass are (1.98 ± 0.05) × 109and (1.81 ± 0.01) × 109M. These upper limits, while less stringent than those calculated from a circular binary search in the NANOGrav 12.5 yr data set, are consistent with the SMBHB model of 3C 66B developed from electromagnetic observations.

     
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  8. Abstract

    The North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) has reported evidence for the presence of an isotropic nanohertz gravitational-wave background (GWB) in its 15 yr data set. However, if the GWB is produced by a population of inspiraling supermassive black hole binary (SMBHB) systems, then the background is predicted to be anisotropic, depending on the distribution of these systems in the local Universe and the statistical properties of the SMBHB population. In this work, we search for anisotropy in the GWB using multiple methods and bases to describe the distribution of the GWB power on the sky. We do not find significant evidence of anisotropy. By modeling the angular power distribution as a sum over spherical harmonics (where the coefficients are not bound to always generate positive power everywhere), we find that the Bayesian 95% upper limit on the level of dipole anisotropy is (Cl=1/Cl=0) < 27%. This is similar to the upper limit derived under the constraint of positive power everywhere, indicating that the dipole may be close to the data-informed regime. By contrast, the constraints on anisotropy at higher spherical-harmonic multipoles are strongly prior dominated. We also derive conservative estimates on the anisotropy expected from a random distribution of SMBHB systems using astrophysical simulations conditioned on the isotropic GWB inferred in the 15 yr data set and show that this data set has sufficient sensitivity to probe a large fraction of the predicted level of anisotropy. We end by highlighting the opportunities and challenges in searching for anisotropy in pulsar timing array data.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2024
  9. null (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT The bright quasar PG1302-102 has been identified as a candidate supermassive black hole binary from its near-sinusoidal optical variability. While the significance of its optical periodicity has been debated due to the stochastic variability of quasars, its multiwavelength variability in the ultraviolet (UV) and optical bands is consistent with relativistic Doppler boost caused by the orbital motion in a binary. However, this conclusion was based previously on sparse UV data that were not taken simultaneously with the optical data. Here, we report simultaneous follow-up observations of PG1302-102 with the Ultraviolet Optical Telescope on the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory in six optical + UV bands. The additional nine Swift observations produce light curves roughly consistent with the trend under the Doppler boost hypothesis, which predicts that UV variability should track the optical, but with a ∼2.2 times higher amplitude. We perform a statistical analysis to quantitatively test this hypothesis. We find that the data are consistent with the Doppler boost hypothesis when we compare the the amplitudes in optical B-band and UV light curves. However, the ratio of UV to V-band variability is larger than expected and is consistent with the Doppler model, only if either the UV/optical spectral slopes vary, the stochastic variability makes a large contribution in the UV, or the sparse new optical data underestimate the true optical variability. We have evidence for the latter from comparison with the optical light curve from All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae. Additionally, the simultaneous analysis of all four bands strongly disfavours the Doppler boost model whenever Swift V band is involved. Additional, simultaneous optical + UV observations tracing out another cycle of the 5.2-yr proposed periodicity should lead to a definitive conclusion. 
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