EDP Sciences
Free access
Volume 494, Number 3, February II 2009
Page(s) 905 - 913
Section Extragalactic astronomy
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:200811005
Published online 22 December 2008
A&A 494, 905-913 (2009)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:200811005

A correlation between the spectral and timing properties of AGN

I. E. Papadakis1, 2, M. Sobolewska2, P. Arevalo3, A. Markowitz4, I. M. Mc Hardy3, L. Miller5, J. N. Reeves6, and T. J. Turner7, 8

1  Physics Department, University of Crete, PO Box 2208, 71003 Heraklion, Crete, Greece
    e-mail: jhep@physics.uoc.gr
2  IESL, Foundation for Research and Technology, 71110 Heraklion, Greece
3  School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Southampton, Southampton S017 1BJ, UK
4  Centre for Astrophysics and Space Sciences, University of California, San Diego, Mail Code 0424, La Jolla, CA 92093-0424, USA
5  Dept. of Physics, University of Oxford, Denys Wilkinson Building, Keble Road, Oxford OX1 3RH, UK
6  Astrophysics Group, School of Physical and Geographical Sciences, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire ST5 5BG, UK
7  Department of Physics, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 1000 Hilltop Circle, Baltimore, MD 21250, USA
8  Code 662, Exploration of the Universe Division, NASA/GSFC, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA

Received 21 September 2008 / Accepted 4 December 2008

Context. We present the results from a combined study of the average X-ray spectral and timing properties of 14 nearby AGN.
Aims. We investigate whether a “spectral-timing” AGN correlation exists, similar to the one observed in Cyg X-1, compare the two correlations, and constrain possible physical mechanisms responsible for the X-ray emission in compact, accreting objects.
Methods. For 11 of the sources in the sample, we used all the available data from the RXTE archive, which were taken until the end of 2006. There are 7795 RXTE observations i n total for these AGN, obtained over a period of $\sim $7-11 years. We extracted their 3–20 keV spectra and fitted them with a simple power-law model, modified by the presence of a Gaussian line (at 6.4 keV) and cold absorption, when necessary. We used the best-fit slopes to construct their sample distribution function, and we used the median of the distribution, and the mean of the best-fit slopes, which are above the 80th percentile of the distributions, to estimate the mean spectral slope of the objects. The latter estimate is more appropriate in the case when the energy spectra of the sources are significantly affected by absorption and/or reflection effects. We also used results from the literature to estimate the average spectral slope of the three remaining objects.
Results. The AGN average spectral slopes are not correlated either with the black hole mass or the characteristic frequencies that were detected in the power spectra. They are positively correlated, though, with the characteristic frequency when normalised to the sources black hole mass. This correlation is similar to the spectral-timing correlation that has been observed in Cyg X-1, but not the same.
Conclusions. The AGN spectral-timing correlation can be explained if we assume that the accretion rate determines both the average spectral slope and the characteristic time scales in these systems. The spectrum should steepen and the characteristic frequency should increase, proportionally, with increasing accretion rate. We also provide a quantitative expression between spectral slope and accretion rate. Thermal Comptonisation models are broadly consistent with our result, and can also explain the difference between the spectral-timing correlations in Cyg X-1 and AGN, but only if the ratio of the soft photons' luminosity to the power injected to the hot corona is proportionally related to the accretion rate.

Key words: galaxies: active -- galaxies: Seyfert -- X-rays: galaxies

© ESO 2009