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  1. Abstract

    “Changing-look” active galactic nuclei (CL-AGNs) challenge our basic ideas about the physics of accretion flows and circumnuclear gas around supermassive black holes. Using first-year Sloan Digital Sky Survey V (SDSS-V) repeated spectroscopy of nearly 29,000 previously known active galactic nuclei (AGNs), combined with dedicated follow-up spectroscopy, and publicly available optical light curves, we have identified 116 CL-AGNs where (at least) one broad emission line has essentially (dis-)appeared, as well as 88 other extremely variable systems. Our CL-AGN sample, with 107 newly identified cases, is the largest reported to date, and includes ∼0.4% of the AGNs reobserved in first-year SDSS-V operations. Among our CL-AGNs, 67% exhibit dimming while 33% exhibit brightening. Our sample probes extreme AGN spectral variability on months to decades timescales, including some cases of recurring transitions on surprisingly short timescales (≲2 months in the rest frame). We find that CL events are preferentially found in lower-Eddington-ratio (fEdd) systems: Our CL-AGNs have afEdddistribution that significantly differs from that of a carefully constructed, redshift- and luminosity-matched control sample (Anderson–Darling test yieldingpAD≈ 6 × 10−5; medianfEdd≈ 0.025 versus 0.043). This preference for lowfEddstrengthens previous findings of higher CL-AGN incidence at lowerfEdd, found in smaller samples. Finally, we show that the broad Mgiiemission line in our CL-AGN sample tends to vary significantly less than the broad Hβemission line. Our large CL-AGN sample demonstrates the advantages and challenges in using multi-epoch spectroscopy from large surveys to study extreme AGN variability and physics.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 26, 2025

    We investigate the X-ray variability properties of Seyfert 1 Galaxies belonging to the BAT AGN Spectroscopic Survey (BASS). The sample includes 151 unobscured (NH < 1022 cm−2) AGNs observed with XMM–Newton for a total exposure time of ∼27 ms, representing the deepest variability study done so far with high signal-to-noise XMM–Newton observations, almost doubling the number of observations analysed in previous works. We constrain the relation between the normalized excess variance and the 2–10 keV AGN luminosities, black hole masses, and Eddington ratios. We find a highly significant correlation between $\sigma _{\rm NXS}^2$ and MBH , with a scatter of ∼0.85 dex. For sources with high L2–10 this correlation has a lower normalization, confirming that more luminous (higher mass) AGNs show less variability. We explored the $\sigma _{\rm NXS}^2$ versus MBH relation for the sub-sample of sources with MBH estimated via the ‘reverberation mapping’ technique, finding a tighter anticorrelation, with a scatter of ∼0.65 dex. We examine how the $\sigma _{\rm NXS}^2$ changes with energy by studying the relation between the variability in the hard (3–10 keV) and the soft (0.2–1 keV)/medium (1–3 keV) energy bands, finding that the spectral components dominating the hard energy band are more variable than the spectral components dominating in softer energy bands, on time-scales shorter than 10 ks.

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  3. Abstract

    This work studies the relationship between accretion-disk size and quasar properties, using a sample of 95 quasars from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Reverberation Mapping Project with measured lags between thegandiphotometric bands. Our sample includes disk lags that are both longer and shorter than predicted by the Shakura and Sunyaev model, requiring explanations that satisfy both cases. Although our quasars each have one lag measurement, we explore the wavelength-dependent effects of diffuse broad-line region (BLR) contamination through our sample’s broad redshift range, 0.1 <z< 1.2. We do not find significant evidence of variable diffuse Feiiand Balmer nebular emission in the rms spectra, nor from Anderson–Darling tests of quasars in redshift ranges with and without diffuse nebular emission falling in the observed-frame filters. Contrary to previous work, we do not detect a significant correlation between the measured continuum and BLR lags in our luminous quasar sample, similarly suggesting that our continuum lags are not dominated by diffuse nebular emission. Similar to other studies, we find that quasars with larger-than-expected continuum lags have lower 3000 Å luminosities, and we additionally find longer continuum lags with lower X-ray luminosities and black hole masses. Our lack of evidence for diffuse BLR contribution to the lags indicates that the anticorrelation between continuum lag and luminosity is not likely to be due to the Baldwin effect. Instead, these anticorrelations favor models in which the continuum lag increases in lower-luminosity active galactic nuclei, including scenarios featuring magnetic coupling between the accretion disk and X-ray corona, and/or ripples or rims in the disk.

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  4. Abstract

    Spectral energy distributions (SEDs) from X-ray to far-infrared (FIR) wavelengths are presented for a sample of 1246 X-ray-luminous active galactic nuclei (AGNs;L0.5–10 keV> 1043erg s−1), withzspec< 1.2, selected from Stripe 82X, COSMOS, and GOODS-N/S. The rest-frame SEDs show a wide spread (∼2.5 dex) in the relative strengths of broad continuum features at X-ray, ultraviolet (UV), mid-infrared (MIR), and FIR wavelengths. A linear correlation (log–log slope of 0.7 ± 0.04) is found betweenLMIRandLX. There is significant scatter in the relation between theLUVandLXowing to heavy obscuration; however, the most luminous and unobscured AGNs show a linear correlation (log–log slope of 0.8 ± 0.06) in the relation above this scatter. The relation betweenLFIRandLXis predominantly flat, but with decreasing dispersion atLX> 1044erg s−1. The ratio between the “galaxy-subtracted” bolometric luminosity and the intrinsicLXincreases from a factor of ∼10 to 70 from logLbol/(erg s−1) = 44.5 to 46.5. Characteristic SED shapes have been determined by grouping AGNs based on relative strengths of the UV and MIR emission. The averageL1μmis constant for the majority of these SED shapes, while AGNs with the strongest UV and MIR emission have elevatedL1μm, consistent with the AGN emission dominating their SEDs at optical and near-infrared wavelengths. A strong correlation is found between the SED shape and both theLXandLbol, such thatLbol/LX= 20.4 ± 1.8, independent of the SED shape. This is consistent with an evolutionary scenario of increasingLbolwith decreasing obscuration as the AGN blows away circumnuclear gas.

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  5. Abstract

    The optical-ultraviolet transient AT 2021loi is located at the center of its host galaxy. Its spectral features identify it as a member of the Bowen fluorescence flare (BFF) class. The first member of this class was considered to be related to a tidal disruption event, but enhanced accretion onto an already active supermassive black hole was suggested as an alternative explanation. Having occurred in a previously known unobscured active galactic nucleus, AT 2021loi strengthens the latter interpretation. Its light curve is similar to those of previous BFFs, showing a rebrightening approximately 1 yr after the main peak (which was not explicitly identified but might be the case in all previous BFFs). An emission feature around 4680 Å, seen in the preflare spectrum, strengthens by a factor of ∼2 around the optical peak of the flare and is clearly seen as a double-peaked feature then, suggesting a blend of Niiiλ4640 with Heiiλ4686 as its origin. The appearance of Oiiiλ3133 and possible Niiiλλ4097, 4103 (blended with Hδ) during the flare further support a Bowen fluorescence classification. Here we present ZTF, ATLAS, Keck, Las Cumbres Observatory, NEOWISE-R, Swift AMI, and Very Large Array observations of AT 2021loi, making it one of the best-observed BFFs to date. It thus provides some clarity on the nature of BFFs but also further demonstrates the diversity of nuclear transients.

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  6. Abstract

    We present measurements of black hole masses and Eddington ratios (λEdd) for a sample of 38 bright (M1450< −24.4 mag) quasars at 5.8 ≲z≲ 7.5, derived from Very Large Telescope/X–shooter near–IR spectroscopy of their broad Civand Mgiiemission lines. The black hole masses (on average,MBH∼ 4.6 × 109M) and accretion rates (0.1 ≲λEdd≲ 1.0) are broadly consistent with that of similarly luminous 0.3 ≲z≲ 2.3 quasars, but there is evidence for a mild increase in the Eddington ratio abovez≳ 6. Combined with deep Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) observations of the [CII] 158μm line from the host galaxies and VLT/MUSE investigations of the extended Lyαhalos, this study provides fundamental clues to models of the formation and growth of the first massive galaxies and black holes. Compared to local scaling relations,z≳ 5.7 black holes appear to be over-massive relative to their hosts, with accretion properties that do not change with host galaxy morphologies. Assuming that the kinematics of theT∼ 104K gas, traced by the extended Lyαhalos, are dominated by the gravitational potential of the dark matter halo, we observe a similar relation between black hole mass and circular velocity as reported forz∼ 0 galaxies. These results paint a picture where the first supermassive black holes reside in massive halos atz≳ 6 and lead the first stages of galaxy formation by rapidly growing in mass with a duty cycle of order unity. The duty cycle needs to drastically drop toward lower redshifts, while the host galaxies continue forming stars at a rate of hundreds of solar masses per year, sustained by the large reservoirs of cool gas surrounding them.

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  7. The detection of starlight from the host galaxies of quasars during the reionization epoch (z > 6) has been elusive, even with deep HST observations1,2. The current highest redshift quasar host detected3, at z = 4.5, required the magnifying effect of a foreground lensing galaxy. Low-luminosity quasars4,5,6 from the Hyper Suprime-Cam Subaru Strategic Program (HSC-SSP)7 mitigate the challenge of detecting their underlying, previously-undetected host galaxies. Here we report rest-frame optical images and spectroscopy of two HSC-SSP quasars at z > 6 with JWST. Using NIRCam imaging at 3.6μm and 1.5μm and subtracting the light from the unresolved quasars, we find that the host galaxies are massive (stellar masses of 13 × and 3.4 × 1010 M⊙, respectively), compact, and disk-like. NIRSpec medium-resolution spectroscopy shows stellar absorption lines in the more massive quasar, confirming the detection of the host. Velocity-broadened gas in the vicinity of these quasars enables measurements of their black hole masses (1.4 × 109 and 2.0 × 108 M⊙, respectively). Their location in the black hole mass - stellar mass plane is consistent with the distribution at low redshift, suggesting that the relation between black holes and their host galaxies was already in place less than a billion years after the Big Bang. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 28, 2024
  8. Abstract

    Weak emission-line quasars (WLQs) are a subset of type 1 quasars that exhibit extremely weak Lyα+ Nvλ1240 and/or Civλ1549 emission lines. We investigate the relationship between emission-line properties and accretion rate for a sample of 230 “ordinary” type 1 quasars and 18 WLQs atz< 0.5 and 1.5 <z< 3.5 that have rest-frame ultraviolet and optical spectral measurements. We apply a correction to the Hβ-based black hole mass (MBH) estimates of these quasars using the strength of the optical Feiiemission. We confirm previous findings that WLQs’MBHvalues are overestimated by up to an order of magnitude using the traditional broad-emission-line region size–luminosity relation. With thisMBHcorrection, we find a significant correlation between Hβ-based Eddington luminosity ratios and a combination of the rest-frame Civequivalent width and Civblueshift with respect to the systemic redshift. This correlation holds for both ordinary quasars and WLQs, which suggests that the two-dimensional Civparameter space can serve as an indicator of accretion rate in all type 1 quasars across a wide range of spectral properties.

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  9. Abstract We present multiwavelength high-spatial resolution (∼0.″1, 70 pc) observations of UGC 4211 at z = 0.03474, a late-stage major galaxy merger at the closest nuclear separation yet found in near-IR imaging (0.″32, ∼230 pc projected separation). Using Hubble Space Telescope/Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, Very Large Telescope/MUSE+AO, Keck/OSIRIS+AO spectroscopy, and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) observations, we show that the spatial distribution, optical and near-infrared emission lines, and millimeter continuum emission are all consistent with both nuclei being powered by accreting supermassive black holes (SMBHs). Our data, combined with common black hole mass prescriptions, suggest that both SMBHs have similar masses, log M BH / M ⊙ ∼ 8.1 (south) and log M BH / M ⊙ ∼ 8.3 (north), respectively. The projected separation of 230 pc (∼6× the black hole sphere of influence) represents the closest-separation dual active galactic nuclei (AGN) studied to date with multiwavelength resolved spectroscopy and shows the potential of nuclear (<50 pc) continuum observations with ALMA to discover hidden growing SMBH pairs. While the exact occurrence rate of close-separation dual AGN is not yet known, it may be surprisingly high, given that UGC 4211 was found within a small, volume-limited sample of nearby hard X-ray detected AGN. Observations of dual SMBH binaries in the subkiloparsec regime at the final stages of dynamical friction provide important constraints for future gravitational wave observatories. 
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  10. Abstract We constrain the intrinsic Eddington ratio ( λ Edd ) distribution function for local active galactic nuclei (AGN) in bins of low and high obscuration [ log ( N H / cm − 2 ) ≤ 22 and 22 < log ( N H / cm − 2 ) < 25 ], using the Swift Burst Alert Telescope 70 month/BASS DR2 survey. We interpret the fraction of obscured AGN in terms of circumnuclear geometry and temporal evolution. Specifically, at low Eddington ratios ( log λ Edd < −2), obscured AGN outnumber unobscured ones by a factor of ∼4, reflecting the covering factor of the circumnuclear material (0.8, or a torus opening angle of ∼34°). At high Eddington ratios ( log λ Edd > −1), the trend is reversed, with <30% of AGN having log ( N H / cm − 2 ) > 22 , which we suggest is mainly due to the small fraction of time spent in a highly obscured state. Considering the Eddington ratio distribution function of narrow-line and broad-line AGN from our prior work, we see a qualitatively similar picture. To disentangle temporal and geometric effects at high λ Edd , we explore plausible clearing scenarios such that the time-weighted covering factors agree with the observed population ratio. We find that the low fraction of obscured AGN at high λ Edd is primarily due to the fact that the covering factor drops very rapidly, with more than half the time spent with <10% covering factor. We also find that nearly all obscured AGN at high- λ Edd exhibit some broad lines. We suggest that this is because the height of the depleted torus falls below the height of the broad-line region, making the latter visible from all lines of sight. 
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