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Intranight polarization variability in radio-loud and radio-quiet AGN

Villforth, C; Nilsson, K; Østensen, R; Heidt, J; Niemi, S-M; Pforr, J; (2009) Intranight polarization variability in radio-loud and radio-quiet AGN. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society , 397 (4) 1893 - 1908. 10.1111/j.1365-2966.2009.14886.x. Green open access

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Abstract

Intranight polarization variability in active galactic nuclei (AGN) has not been studied extensively so far. Studying the variability in polarization makes it possible to distinguish between different emission mechanisms. Thus, it can help answering the question if intranight variability in radio-loud and radio-quiet AGN is of the same or of fundamentally different origin. In this paper, we investigate intranight polarization variability in AGN. Our sample consists of 28 AGN at low to moderate redshifts (0.048 ≤z≤ 1.036), 12 of which are radio-quiet quasars (RQQs) and 16 are radio-loud blazars. The subsample of blazars consists of eight flat-spectrum radio-quasars (FSRQs) and eight BL Lac objects. Each AGN was observed for a time-span of ∼4 h in the R band to measure polarization and variability. Using statistical methods, we determine duty cycles for polarized emission and polarization intranight variability. We find clear differences between the two samples. A majority of the radio-loud AGN show moderate to high degrees of polarization, more than half of them also show variability in polarization. There seems to be a dividing line for polarization intranight variability at P∼ 5 per cent over which all objects vary in polarization. We did not find clear correlations between the strength of the variability and the redshift or degree of polarization. Only two out of 12 RQQs show polarized emission, both at levels of P < 1 per cent. The lack of polarization intranight variability in radio-quiet AGN points towards accretion instabilities being the cause for intranight flux variability whereas the high duty cycle of polarization variability in radio-loud objects is more likely caused by instabilities in the jet or changes of physical conditions in the jet plasma. We were able to constrain the time-scale of the detected variations to >4 h. Further studies of intranight polarization variability will be necessary to reveal exact physical conditions behind this phenomenon.

Type: Article
Title: Intranight polarization variability in radio-loud and radio-quiet AGN
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2966.2009.14886.x
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2966.2009.14886.x
Language: English
Additional information: © 2009 RAS Definitive versions of articles pre-2013 are available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1365-2966, now published by http://mnras.oxfordjournals.org
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > Dept of Space and Climate Physics
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1387550
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