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Durham University

Department of Physics

Staff profile

Publication details for Prof David Alexander

Young, M., Brandt, W.N., Xue, Y.Q., Paolillo, M., Alexander, D.M., Bauer, F.E., Lehmer, B.D., Luo, B., Shemmer, O., Schneider, D.P. & Vignali, C. (2012). Variability-selected low-luminosity active galactic nuclei in the 4 Ms Chandra Deep Field-South. The astrophysical journal 748(2): 124.

Author(s) from Durham


The 4 Ms Chandra Deep Field-South (CDF-S) and other deep X-ray surveys have been highly effective at selecting active galactic nuclei (AGNs). However, cosmologically distant low-luminosity AGNs (LLAGNs) have remained a challenge to identify due to significant contribution from the host galaxy. We identify long-term X-ray variability (~month-years, observed frame) in 20 of 92 CDF-S galaxies spanning redshifts z ≈ 0.08-1.02 that do not meet other AGN selection criteria. We show that the observed variability cannot be explained by X-ray binary populations or ultraluminous X-ray sources, so the variability is most likely caused by accretion onto a supermassive black hole (SMBH). The variable galaxies are not heavily obscured in general, with a stacked effective power-law photon index of Γstack ≈ 1.93 ± 0.13, and are therefore likely LLAGNs. The LLAGNs tend to lie a factor of ≈6-80 below the extrapolated linear variability-luminosity relation measured for luminous AGNs. This may be explained by their lower accretion rates. Variability-independent black hole mass and accretion-rate estimates for variable galaxies show that they sample a significantly different black hole mass-accretion-rate space, with masses a factor of 2.4 lower and accretion rates a factor of 22.5 lower than variable luminous AGNs at the same redshift. We find that an empirical model based on a universal broken power-law power spectral density function, where the break frequency depends on SMBH mass and accretion rate, roughly reproduces the shape, but not the normalization, of the variability-luminosity trends measured for variable galaxies and more luminous AGNs.