Blazar optical variability in the palomar-quest survey

Anne Bauer, Charles Baltay, Paolo Coppi, Nancy Ellman, Jonathan Jerke, David Rabinowitz, Richard Scalzo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


We study the ensemble optical variability of 276 flat-spectrum radio quasars (FSRQs) and 86 BL Lacs in the Palomar-QUEST Survey with the goal of searching for common fluctuation properties, examining the range of behavior across the sample, and characterizing the appearance of blazars in such a survey so that future work can more easily identify such objects. The survey, which covers 15,000 deg2 multiple times over 3.5 years, allows for the first ensemble blazar study of this scale. Variability amplitude distributions are shown for the FSRQ and BL Lac samples for numerous time lags, and also studied through structure function analyses. Individual blazars show a wide range of variability amplitudes, timescales, and duty cycles. Of the best-sampled objects, 35% are seen to vary by more than 0.4 mag; for these, the fraction of measurements contributing to the high-amplitude variability ranges constantly from about 5% to 80%. Blazar variability has some similarities to that of type I quasi-stellar objects (QSOs) but includes larger amplitude fluctuations on all timescales. FSRQ variability amplitudes are particularly similar to those of QSOs on timescales of several months, suggesting significant contributions from the accretion disk to the variable flux at these timescales. Optical variability amplitudes are correlated with the maximum apparent velocities of the radio jet for the subset of FSRQs with MOJAVE Very Long Baseline Array measurements, implying that the optically variable flux's strength is typically related to that of the radio emission. We also study CRATES radio-selected FSRQ candidates, which show similar variability characteristics to known FSRQs; this suggests a high purity for the CRATES sample.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1732-1741
Number of pages10
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009


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


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