Spectral analysis of four 'hypervariable' AGN: a micro-needle in the haystack?

A. Bruce, A. Lawrence, C. MacLeod, M. Elvis, M. J. Ward, J. S. Collinson, S. Gezari, P. J. Marshall, M. C. Lam, R. Kotak, C. Inserra, J. Polshaw, N. Kaiser, R-P. Kudritzki, E. A. Magnier, C. Waters

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We analyze four extreme AGN transients to explore the possibility that they are caused by rare, high-amplitude microlensing events. These previously unknown type-I AGN are located in the redshift range 0.6-1.1 and show changes of > 1.5 magnitudes in the g-band on a timescale of ~years. Multi-epoch optical spectroscopy, from the William Herschel Telescope, shows clear differential variability in the broad line fluxes with respect to the continuum changes and also evolution in the line profiles. In two cases a simple point-source, point-lens microlensing model provides an excellent match to the long-term variability seen in these objects. For both models the parameter constraints are consistent with the microlensing being due to an intervening stellar mass object but as yet there is no confirmation of the presence of an intervening galaxy. The models predict a peak amplification of 10.3/13.5 and an Einstein timescale of 7.5/10.8 years respectively. In one case the data also allow constraints on the size of the CIII] emitting region, with some simplifying assumptions, to to be ~1.0-6.5 light-days and a lower limit on the size of the MgII emitting region to be > 9 light-days (half-light radii). This CIII] radius is perhaps surprisingly small. In the remaining two objects there is spectroscopic evidence for an intervening absorber but the extra structure seen in the lightcurves requires a more complex lensing scenario to adequately explain.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Early online date20 Jan 2017
Publication statusEarly online date - 20 Jan 2017


  • Astrophysics - High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena
  • Astrophysics - Astrophysics of Galaxies


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