The evolution of quasar C IV and Si IV broad absorption lines over multi-year timescales

Robert R. Gibson, W. N. Brandt, S. C. Gallagher, Paul C. Hewett, Donald P. Schneider

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52 Scopus citations


We investigate the variability of C IV λ1549 broad absorption line (BAL) troughs over rest-frame timescales of up to 7 yr in 14 quasars at redshifts z ≳ 2.1. For nine sources at sufficiently high redshift, we also compare the C IV and Si IV λ1400 absorption variation. We compare shorter and longer term variability using spectra from up to four different epochs per source and find complex patterns of variation in the sample overall. The scatter in the change of absorption equivalent width (EW), ΔEW, increases with the time between observations. BALs do not, in general, strengthen or weaken monotonically, and variation observed over shorter (≲months) timescales is not predictive of multi-year variation. We find no evidence for asymmetry in the distribution of ΔEW that would indicate that BALs form and decay on different timescales, and we constrain the typical BAL lifetime to be ≳30 yr. The BAL absorption for one source, LBQS 0022+0150, has weakened and may now be classified as a mini-BAL. Another source, 1235+1453, shows evidence of variable, blue continuum emission that is relatively unabsorbed by the BAL outflow. C IV and Si IV BAL shape changes are related in at least some sources. Given their high velocities, BAL outflows apparently traverse large spatial regions and may interact with parsec-scale structures such as an obscuring torus. Assuming BAL outflows are launched from a rotating accretion disk, notable azimuthal symmetry is required in the outflow to explain the relatively small changes observed in velocity structure over times up to 7 yr.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)220-231
Number of pages12
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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