Volume 525, January 2011
|Number of page(s)||16|
|Published online||30 November 2010|
Spectral variability of quasars from multi-epoch photometric data in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Stripe 82
Thüringer Landessternwarte Tautenburg,
Sternwarte 5, 07778
2 Astronomisches Institut, Universität Bern, Sidlerstraße 5, 3012 Bern, Switzerland
3 Astrophysikalisches Institut Potsdam, An der Sternwarte 16, 14482 Potsdam, Germany
Accepted: 27 September 2010
Aims. The study of the ensemble properties of the UV/optical broadband variability of quasars is hampered by the combined effects of the dependence of variability on timescale, rest-frame wavelength, and luminosity. Here, we present a new approach to analysing the dependence of quasar variability on rest-frame wavelengths.
Methods. We exploited the spectral archive of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) to create a sample of over 9000 quasars in the Stripe 82. The quasar catalogue was matched with the Light Motion Curve Catalogue for SDSS Stripe 82 and first-order structure functions were computed from the lightcurves. The structure functions are used to create a variability indicator that is related to the same intrinsic timescales for all quasars (about 1 to 2 yr in the rest-frame). We study the variability ratios for adjacent SDSS filter bands as a function of redshift. A quantitative interpretation of these relations is provided by comparing with the results of simple Monte Carlo simulations of variable quasar spectra.
Results. We confirm the well-known dependence of variability on time-lag; the best power-law fit of the sample-averaged structure function has a slope β = 0.31 ± 0.03. We also confirm that anti-correlations exist with luminosity, wavelength, and redshift, where the latter can be fully explained as a consequence of the former two dependencies. The variability ratios as a function of redshift resemble the corresponding colour index-redshift relations. While variability is almost always stronger in the bluer passband than in the redder, the variability ratio depends on whether strong emission lines contribute to either one band or the other. We find that the observed variability ratio-redshift relations are described well assuming that (a) the r.m.s. fluctuation of the quasar continuum flux follows a power law σ(fλ) ∝ λ-2 (i.e., is bluer when brighter) and (b) the variability of the emission line flux is only ~10% of that of the underlying continuum. These results, based upon the photometry of more than 8000 quasars, confirm the previous findings by Wilhite and collaborators for 315 quasars with repeated SDSS spectroscopy. Finally, we find that quasars with unusual spectra and weak emission lines tend to have less variability than conventional quasars. This trend is the opposite of that expected from the dilution effect of variability due to line emission and may be indicative of high Eddington ratios in these unusual quasars.
Key words: galaxies: active / quasars: general / quasars: emission lines
© ESO, 2010
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