Theoretical modelling of the AGN iron line vs. continuum time-lags in the lamp-post geometry
1 Department of Physics and Institute of Theoretical and Computational Physics, University of Crete, 71003 Heraklion, Greece
2 IESL, Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas, 71110 Heraklion, Crete, Greece
3 Astronomical Institute, Academy of Sciences, Boční II 1401, 14131 Prague, Czech Republic
4 Physics and Astronomy, University of Southampton, Southampton, SO17 1BJ, UK
Received: 15 November 2015
Accepted: 7 July 2016
Context. Theoretical modelling of time-lags between variations in the Fe Kα emission and the X-ray continuum might shed light on the physics and geometry of the X-ray emitting region in active galaxies (AGN) and X-ray binaries. We here present the results from a systematic analysis of time-lags between variations in two energy bands (5−7 vs. 2−4 keV) for seven X-ray bright and variable AGN.
Aims. We estimate time-lags as accurately as possible and fit them with theoretical models in the context of the lamp-post geometry. We also constrain the geometry of the X-ray emitting region in AGN.
Methods. We used all available archival XMM-Newton data for the sources in our sample and extracted light curves in the 5−7 and 2−4 keV energy bands. We used these light curves and applied a thoroughly tested (through extensive numerical simulations) recipe to estimate time-lags that have minimal bias, approximately follow a Gaussian distribution, and have known errors. Using traditional χ2 minimisation techniques, we then fitted the observed time-lags with two different models: a phenomenological model where the time-lags have a power-law dependence on frequency, and a physical model, using the reverberation time-lags expected in the lamp-post geometry. The latter were computed assuming a point-like primary X-ray source above a black hole surrounded by a neutral and prograde accretion disc with solar iron abundance. We took all relativistic effects into account for various X-ray source heights, inclination angles, and black hole spin values.
Results. Given the available data, time-lags between the two energy bands can only be reliably measured at frequencies between ~5 × 10-5 Hz and ~10-3 Hz. The power-law and reverberation time-lag models can both fit the data well in terms of formal statistical characteristics. When fitting the observed time-lags to the lamp-post reverberation scenario, we can only constrain the height of the X-ray source. The data require, or are consistent with, a small (≲ 10 gravitational radii) X-ray source height.
Conclusions. In principle, the 5−7 keV band, which contains most of the Fe Kα line emission, could be an ideal band for studying reverberation effects, as it is expected to be dominated by the X-ray reflection component. We here carried out the best possible analysis with XMM-Newton data. Time-lags can be reliably estimated over a relatively narrow frequency range, and their errors are rather large. Nevertheless, our results are consistent with the hypothesis of X-ray reflection from the inner accretion disc.
Key words: galaxies: active / X-rays: galaxies / accretion, accretion disks / galaxies: Seyfert / relativistic processes
© ESO, 2016