How fast do quasar emission lines vary? First results from a program to monitor the Balmer lines of the Palomar-Green Quasars

Dan Maoz, Paul S. Smith, Buell Tomasson Jannuzi, Shai Kaspi, Hagai Netzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

31 Scopus citations


We have monitored spectrophotometrically a subsample (28) of the Palomar-Green Bright Quasar Sample for 2 years in order to test for correlations between continuum and emission-line variations and to determine the timescales relevant to mapping the broad-line regions of high-luminosity AGNs. Half of the quasars showed optical continuum variations with amplitudes in the range 20-75%. The rise and fall time for the continuum variations is typically 0.5-2 years. In most of the objects with continuum variations, we detect correlated variations in the broad Hα and Hβ emission lines. The amplitude of the line variations is usually 2-4 times smaller than the optical continuum fluctuations. We present light curves and analyze spectra for six of the variable quasars with 1000-10,000 Å luminosity in the range of 0.3-4 × 1045 ergs s-1. In four of these objects the lines respond to the continuum variations with a lag that is smaller than or comparable to our typical sampling interval (a few months). Although continued monitoring is required to confirm these results and increase their accuracy, the present evidence indicates that quasars with the above luminosities have broad-line regions smaller than about 1 lt-yr. Two of the quasars monitored show no detectable line variations despite relatively large-amplitude continuum changes. This could be a stronger manifestation of the low-amplitude line-response phenomenon we observe in the other quasars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)34-45
Number of pages12
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 20 1994
Externally publishedYes



  • Galaxies: photometry
  • Quasars: general

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Space and Planetary Science

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