Variability of narrow, associated absorption lines in moderate- and low-redshift quasars

John H. Wise, Michael Eracleous, Jane C. Charlton, Rajib Ganguly

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45 Scopus citations


We present the results of a search for variability in the equivalent widths (EWs) of narrow, associated (|Δ| ≤ 5000 km s-1) absorption lines found in the UV spectra of z ≤ 1.5 quasars. The goal of this search was to use variability as a means of identifying absorption lines arising in gas that is intrinsic to the quasar central engine. We have compared archival Hubble Space Telescope (HST) Faint Object Spectrograph (FOS) spectra of quasars with recent spectra obtained as part of our own snapshot survey of the same objects with the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS). The intervals between observations are 4-10 yr. We primarily focused on the C IV absorption lines, although we also studied other lines available in the same spectra (e.g., Lyα, N V, O VI). Our main result is that 4 out of 15 quasars, or 4 out of 19 associated absorption systems, contained variable narrow absorption lines, which are indicative of intrinsic absorption. We conclude that a minimum of 21% of the associated absorption-line systems are variable. Because not all systems will have necessarily varied, this is a lower limit on this fraction and is consistent with previous estimates based on variability, partial coverage analysis, or statistical arguments. If we interpret the upper limits on the variability timescale as upper limits on the recombination time of the absorber, we constrain the density of the absorber to be ne > 3000 cm-3 and its distance from the ionizing source to be R ≲ 100 pc. Moreover, we are now able to pick out specific intrinsic absorption-line systems to be followed up with high-dispersion spectroscopy in order to constrain the geometry, location, and physical conditions of the absorber. We briefly illustrate how follow-up studies can yield such constraints by means of a simulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-150
Number of pages22
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 I
StatePublished - Sep 20 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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