Mid-ir variability and dust reverberation mapping of low-z quasars. i. data, methods, and basic results

Jianwei Lyu, George H. Rieke, Paul S. Smith

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35 Scopus citations


The continued operation of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), combined with several ground-based optical transient surveys (e.g., CRTS, ASAS-SN, and PTF), offers an unprecedented opportunity to explore the dust structures in luminous active galactic nuclei (AGNs). We use these data for a mid-IR dust reverberation mapping (RM) study of 87 archetypal Palomar-Green quasars at z ≲ 0.5. To cope with various contaminations of the photometry data and the sparse time sampling of the light curves, procedures to combine these data sets and retrieve the dust RM signals have been developed. We find that ∼70% of the sample (with a completeness correction up to 95%) has convincing mid-IR time lags in the WISE W1 (∼3.4 μm) and W2 (∼4.5 μm) bands, and they are proportional to the square root of the AGN luminosity. Combined with previous K-band (∼2.2 μm) RM results in the literature, the inferred dust emission size ratios are RK: RW1: RW2=0.6:1:1.2$. Under simple assumptions, we put preliminary constraints on the projected dust surface density at these bands and reveal the possibly different torus structures among hot-dust-deficient, warm-dust-deficient, and normal quasars from the reverberation signals. With multi-epoch Spitzer data and later WISE photometry, we also explore AGN IR variability at 10-24 μm over a 5 yr timescale. Except for blazars and flat-spectrum radio sources, the majority of AGNs have typical variation amplitudes at 24 μm of no more than 10% of that in the W1 band, indicating that the dust reverberation signals damp out quickly at longer wavelengths. In particular, steep-spectrum radio quasars also lack strong 24 μm variability, consistent with the unification picture of radio-loud AGNs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number33
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 20 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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