Multiwavelength monitoring of the BL lacertae object PKS 2155-304 in 1994 May. III. Probing the inner JET through multiwavelength correlations

C. Megan Urry, Aldo Treves, Laura Maraschi, Herman L. Marshall, Tsuneo Kii, Greg Madejski, Steve Penton, Joseph E. Pesce, Elena Pian, Annalisa Celotti, R. Fujimoto, F. Making, C. Otani, R. M. Sambruna, K. Sasaki, J. M. Shull, Paul S. Smith, T. Takahashi, M. Tashiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


In 1994 May, the BL Lac object PKS 2155-304 was observed continuously for ∼10 days with the International Ultraviolet Explorer and the Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer and for 2 days with ASCA, as well as with ROSAT and with ground-based radio, infrared, and optical telescopes. The light curves show a well-defined X-ray flare followed by a broader, lower amplitude extreme-ultraviolet flare ∼1 day later and a broad, low-amplitude UV flare ∼2 days later. X-ray fluxes obtained at three well-separated times the preceding week indicate at least one previous flare of comparable amplitude or perhaps ongoing stochastic X-ray variations, and additional rapid variability was seen at the beginning of the IUE observation, when extremely sharp changes in UV flux occurred. The X-ray flux observed with ASCA flared by a factor of ∼2 in about half a day and decayed roughly as fast. In contrast, the subsequent UV flare had an amplitude of only ∼35% and lasted longer than 2 days. Assuming that the X-ray, EUV, and UV events are associated, the lags, the decrease of amplitude with wavelength, and the broadening of the temporal profile with wavelength are all qualitatively as expected for synchrotron emission from an inhomogeneous, relativistic jet. Because of the high quality of the data, we can rule out that the observed flares were caused by either a Fermi-type shock acceleration event or a pair cascade in a homogeneous synchrotron-emitting region. A homogeneous region is still possible if there was an instantaneous (t ≪ hours) injection of high-energy electrons that emit first at X-ray energies. Alternatively, the data are consistent with a compression wave or other disturbance crossing a region with stratified particle energy distributions. This kind of situation is expected to occur behind a shock front and/or in an inhomogeneous jet. The present light curves are in sharp contrast to the multiwavelength variability observed in 1991 November, when the amplitude was wavelength independent and the UV lagged the X-rays by less than ∼3 hr. This means that the origin of rapid multiwavelength variability in this blazar is complex, involving at least two different modes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)799-809
Number of pages11
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 PART I
StatePublished - 1997


  • BL Lacertae objects: individual (PKS 2155-304)
  • Galaxies: active
  • Galaxies: jets
  • Ultraviolet: galaxies
  • X-rays: galaxies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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