Volume 547, November 2012
|Number of page(s)||12|
|Published online||23 October 2012|
The X-ray variability history of Markarian 3
1 European Space Astronomy Centre of ESA, PO Box 78, Villanueva de la Cañada, 28691 Madrid, Spain
2 INAF IASF Palermo, via Ugo La Malfa 153, 90146 Palermo, Italy
3 Centro de Astrobiologia (CSIC-INTA), Dep. de Astrofisica, ESA, PO Box 78, 28691, Villanueva de la Cañada, Madrid, Spain
Received: 4 July 2012
Accepted: 4 September 2012
Context. The unified scenario for active galactic nuclei (AGN) postulates that our orientation with respect to a parsec-scale azimuthally-symmetric gas and dust system causes the difference in their phenomenology in the optical/UV and X-ray bands. Only recently have high-resolution radio (VLBI) and IR interferometric observations provided direct constraints on the size and structure of this obscuring system (known historically as the “torus”). On the other hand, variability in optically-thick X-ray absorption and reprocessing in heavily obscured AGN often probe smaller scales, down to the broad line region and beyond.
Aims. We aim at constraining the geometry of the reprocessing matter in the nearby prototypical Seyfert 2 Galaxy Markarian 3 by studying the time evolution of the spectral components associated to the primary AGN emission and to its Compton-scattering.
Methods. We analyzed archival spectroscopic observations of Markarian 3 taken over the last ≃ 12 years with the XMM-Newton, Suzaku and Swift observatories, as well as data taken during a monitoring campaign activated by us in 2012.
Results. The timescale of the Compton-reflection component variability (originally discovered by ASCA in the mid-’90s) is ≲ 64 days. This upper limit improves by more than a factor of 15 on previous estimates of the Compton-reflection variability timescale for this source. When the light curve of the Compton-reflection continuum in the 4−5 keV band is correlated with the 15–150 keV Swift/BAT curve, a delay ≳1200 days is found. The cross-correlation results depend on the model used to fit the spectra, although the detection of the Compton-reflection component variability is independent of the range of models employed to fit the data. Reanalysis of an archival Chandra image of Markarian 3 indicates that the Compton-reflection and the Fe Kα emitting regions are extended to the north up to ≃300 pc. The combination of these findings suggests that the optically-thick reprocessor in Markarian 3 is clumpy.
Conclusions. There is mounting experimental evidence that the structure of the optically-thick gas and dust in the nuclear environment of nearby heavily obscured AGN is extended and complex. We discuss possible modifications to the standard unification scenarios encompassing this complexity. Markarian 3, which exhibits X-ray absorption and reprocessing on widely different spatial scales, is an ideal laboratory to test these models.
Key words: galaxies: active / galaxies: nuclei / galaxies: Seyfert / galaxies: groups: individual: Markarian 3 / X-rays: galaxies
© ESO, 2012
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