Timescale of variation and the size of the accretion disc in active galactic nuclei
Institute for Astronomy (IfA), University of Edinburgh, Royal Observatory, Blackford Hill, Edinburgh EH9 3HJ, UK e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Accepted: 2 November 2006
This paper sets out to measure the timescale of quasar variability with a view to new understanding of the size of accretion discs in active galactic nuclei. Previous attempts to measure such timescales have been based on sparsely sampled data covering small ranges of time. Here we combine data from two large scale monitoring programmes to obtain Fourier power spectra of light curves covering nearly three orders of magnitude in frequency in blue and red passbands. If the variations are interpreted as due to gravitational microlensing, then timescale measurements in the observer's frame imply a minimum mass for the microlensing bodies of around . On the assumption that the variations are intrinsic to the quasars, a correction must be made for time dilation. In this case the power spectrum shows a break corresponding to a timescale of about 11 years. This timescale is used to measure the size of the accretion disc, which is found to be about 10-2 pc or 10 light days, in agreement with limits set by self-gravitation and coincident with the broad line region of the active galactic nucleus. It is suggested that the broad line region may be associated with the break up of the outer part of the accretion disc.
Key words: quasars: general / galaxies: active
© ESO, 2007