Evidence for polarized synchrotron components in radio-optical aligned quasars

Gary D. Schmidt, Paul S. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


A tendency for the axes of double-lobed radio quasars to be aligned with the electric vectors of optical polarization in the active galactic nuclei is well known. However, the origin of the polarization and reason behind its correlation with radio morphology is not yet established. From accurate spectropolarimetry of seven quasars that show this alignment effect, we find that the polarization is universally confined to the continuum and not shared by the line emission or 3000 Å bump. Over the observed region, 4000-8000 Å, the spectral indices of polarized flux, P × Fλ, are consistent with uniform polarization applied to the light of the big blue bump or with synchrotron emission. However, electron scattering from an optically thick, geometrically thin, accretion disk is well known to give rise to a polarization position angle that is perpendicular to the disk axis. Optical synchrotron emission akin to that shown to exist in the miniblazar 3C 273 is a more attractive explanation, and supporting evidence can be found for some of the targets in the form of polarimetric variability over intervals of years. Properties of the most strongly polarized radio-optical aligned quasars can be explained by misdirected blazar core components that have net polarizations of P ∼ 10% and provide ∼ 10% of the total optical light.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-128
Number of pages12
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 PART 1
StatePublished - Dec 10 2000


  • BL Lacertae objects: general
  • Galaxies: active
  • Galaxies: jets
  • Polarization
  • Quasars: general

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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