Open AccessFeature PaperReview
Variability of Blazars and Blazar Models over 38 Years
Galaxies 2016, 4(4), 37; doi:10.3390/galaxies4040037 -
Abstract
Since 1978, when BL Lac objects and violently variable quasars were married to become “blazars”, physical interpretations of the phenomenon have evolved. Remarkably, though, the general picture of relativistic jets beaming their radiation in our direction, proposed that year by Blandford and [...] Read more.
Since 1978, when BL Lac objects and violently variable quasars were married to become “blazars”, physical interpretations of the phenomenon have evolved. Remarkably, though, the general picture of relativistic jets beaming their radiation in our direction, proposed that year by Blandford and Rees, remains intact. The main stress on theoretical models has come from observations that reveal ever more extreme variability requiring rampant particle acceleration on time-scales of minutes, often parsecs away from the central black hole. Here the author reviews many of the observations and theoretical ideas that have shaped his studies of blazars over about 40 years. This leads to his preferred scenario that blazar jets contain a helical magnetic field close to the black hole, turbulent plasma on parsecs scales, and both standing and moving shock waves. Particle acceleration can then occur in multiple stages involving the second-order Fermi process, magnetic reconnections, and modest jumps in energy at shock fronts. The most extreme variability, as well as brightness temperatures ~100 times the inverse Compton limit, probably require occasional exceptionally high bulk Lorentz factors. These can result, for example, from supersonic, relativistic turbulence, or ultra-relativistic flows propelled from sites of magnetic reconnection. Future efforts in these and other areas can determine whether these potential solutions are valid. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
The Blazar Sequence 2.0
Galaxies 2016, 4(4), 36; doi:10.3390/galaxies4040036 -
Abstract
This paper discusses the spectral energy distribution (SED) of all blazars with redshift detected by the Fermi satellite and listed in the 3LAC catalog. The so called “blazar sequence” from the phenomenological point of view will be updated, with no theory or [...] Read more.
This paper discusses the spectral energy distribution (SED) of all blazars with redshift detected by the Fermi satellite and listed in the 3LAC catalog. The so called “blazar sequence” from the phenomenological point of view will be updated, with no theory or modelling. It will be shown that: (i) pure data show that jet and accretion power are related; (ii) the updated blazar sequence maintains the properties of the old version, albeit with a less pronounced dominance of the γ-ray emission; (iii) at low bolometric luminosities, two different types of objects have the same high energy power: low black hole mass flat spectrum radio quasars and high mass BL Lacs. Therefore, at low luminosities, there is a very large dispersion of SED shapes; (iv) in low power BL Lacs, the contribution of the host galaxy is important. Remarkably, the luminosity distribution of the host galaxies of BL Lacs are spread in a very narrow range; (v) a simple sum of two smoothly joining power laws can describe the blazar SEDs very well. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Broad Band Observations of Gravitationally Lensed Blazar during a Gamma-Ray Outburst
Galaxies 2016, 4(4), 31; doi:10.3390/galaxies4040031 -
Abstract
QSO B0218+357 is a gravitationally lensed blazar located at a cosmological redshift of 0.944. In July 2014 a GeV flare was observed by Fermi-LAT, triggering follow-up observations with the MAGIC telescopes at energies above 100 GeV. The MAGIC observations at the [...] Read more.
QSO B0218+357 is a gravitationally lensed blazar located at a cosmological redshift of 0.944. In July 2014 a GeV flare was observed by Fermi-LAT, triggering follow-up observations with the MAGIC telescopes at energies above 100 GeV. The MAGIC observations at the expected time of arrival of the trailing component resulted in the first detection of QSO B0218+357 in Very-High-Energy (VHE, >100 GeV) gamma rays. We report here the observed multiwavelength emission during the 2014 flare. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
The Connection between the Radio Jet and the γ-ray Emission in the Radio Galaxy 3C 120 and the Blazar CTA 102
Galaxies 2016, 4(4), 34; doi:10.3390/galaxies4040034 -
Abstract
We present multi-wavelength studies of the radio galaxy 3C 120 and the blazar CTA 102 during unprecedented γ-ray flares for both sources. In both studies the analysis of γ-ray data has been compared with a series of 43 GHz VLBA [...] Read more.
We present multi-wavelength studies of the radio galaxy 3C 120 and the blazar CTA 102 during unprecedented γ-ray flares for both sources. In both studies the analysis of γ-ray data has been compared with a series of 43 GHz VLBA images from the VLBA-BU-BLAZAR program, providing the necessary spatial resolution to probe the parsec scale jet evolution during the high energy events. To extend the radio dataset for 3C 120 we also used 15 GHz VLBA data from the MOJAVE sample. These two objects which represent very different classes of AGN, have similar properties during the γ-ray events. The γ-ray flares are associated with the passage of a new superluminal component through the mm VLBI core, but not all ejections of new components lead to γ-ray events. In both sources γ-ray events occurred only when the new components are moving in a direction closer to our line of sight. We locate the γ-ray dissipation zone a short distance from the radio core but outside of the broad line region, suggesting synchrotron self-Compton scattering as the probable mechanism for the γ-ray production. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Radiative Transfer Modeling of Radio-Band Linear Polarization Observations as a Probe of the Physical Conditions in the Jets of γ-Ray Flaring Blazars
Galaxies 2016, 4(4), 35; doi:10.3390/galaxies4040035 -
Abstract
Since the mid-1980s, the shock-in-jet model has been the preferred paradigm to explain radio-band flaring in blazar jets. We describe our radiative transfer model incorporating relativistically-propagating shocks, and illustrate how the 4.8, 8, and 14.5 GHz linear polarization and total flux density [...] Read more.
Since the mid-1980s, the shock-in-jet model has been the preferred paradigm to explain radio-band flaring in blazar jets. We describe our radiative transfer model incorporating relativistically-propagating shocks, and illustrate how the 4.8, 8, and 14.5 GHz linear polarization and total flux density data from the University of Michigan monitoring program, in combination with the model, constrain jet flow conditions and shock attributes. Results from strong Fermi-era flares in 4 blazars with widely-ranging properties are presented. Additionally, to investigate jet evolution on decadal time scales we analyze 3 outbursts in OT 081 spanning nearly 3 decades and find intrinsic changes attributable to flow changes at a common spatial location, or, alternatively, to a change in the jet segment viewed. The model’s success in reproducing these data supports a scenario in which relativistic shocks compress a plasma with an embedded passive, initially-turbulent magnetic field, with additional ordered magnetic field components, one of which may be helical. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Exploring the Magnetic Field Configuration in BL Lac Using GMVA
Galaxies 2016, 4(3), 32; doi:10.3390/galaxies4030032 -
Abstract
The high radio frequency polarization imaging of non-thermal emission from active galactic nuclei (AGN) is a direct way to probe the magnetic field strength and structure in the immediate vicinity of supermassive black holes (SMBHs) and is crucial in testing the jet-launching [...] Read more.
The high radio frequency polarization imaging of non-thermal emission from active galactic nuclei (AGN) is a direct way to probe the magnetic field strength and structure in the immediate vicinity of supermassive black holes (SMBHs) and is crucial in testing the jet-launching scenario. To explore the the magnetic field configuration at the base of jets in blazars, we took advantage of the full polarization capabilities of the Global Millimeter VLBI Array (GMVA). With an angular resolution of ∼50 micro-arcseconds (μas) at 86 GHz, one could resolve scales up to ∼450 gravitational radii (for a 109 solar mass black hole at a redshift of 0.1). We present here the preliminary results of our study on the blazar BL Lac. Our results suggest that on sub-mas scales the core and the central jet of BL Lac are significantly polarized with two distinct regions of polarized intensity. We also noted a great morphological similarity between the 7 mm/3 mm VLBI images at very similar angular resolution. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
The Radio/Gamma-Ray Connection from 120 MHz to 230 GHz
Galaxies 2016, 4(3), 30; doi:10.3390/galaxies4030030 -
Abstract
Radio loud active galactic nuclei are composed of different spatial features, each one characterized by different spectral properties in the radio band. Among them, blazars are the most common class of sources detected at gamma-rays by Fermi, and their radio emission [...] Read more.
Radio loud active galactic nuclei are composed of different spatial features, each one characterized by different spectral properties in the radio band. Among them, blazars are the most common class of sources detected at gamma-rays by Fermi, and their radio emission is dominated by the flat spectrum compact core. In this contribution, we explore the connection between emission at high energy revealed by Fermi and at radio frequencies. Taking as a reference the strong and very highly significant correlation found between gamma rays and cm-λ radio emission, we explore the different behaviours found as we change the energy range in gamma rays and in radio, therefore changing the physical parameters of the zones involved in the emitted radiation. We find that the correlation weakens when we consider (1) gamma rays of energy above 10 GeV (except for high synchrotron peaked blazars) or (2) low frequency radio data taken by the Murchison Widefield Array; on the other hand, the correlation strengthens when we consider mm-λ data taken by Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA). Full article
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Open AccessArticle
AGN Jet Kinematics on Parsec-Scales: The MOJAVE Program
Galaxies 2016, 4(3), 29; doi:10.3390/galaxies4030029 -
Abstract
Very long baseline interferometry offers the best means of investigating the complex dynamics of relativistic jets powered by active galactic nuclei, via multi-epoch, sub-milliarcsecond, full-polarization imaging at radio wavelengths. Although targeted studies have yielded important information on the structures of individual AGN [...] Read more.
Very long baseline interferometry offers the best means of investigating the complex dynamics of relativistic jets powered by active galactic nuclei, via multi-epoch, sub-milliarcsecond, full-polarization imaging at radio wavelengths. Although targeted studies have yielded important information on the structures of individual AGN jets, the strong selection effects associated with relativistically beaming imply that general aspects of the flows can only be determined via large statistical studies. In this review I discuss major results from the Monitoring of Jets in Active Galactic Nuclei With VLBA Experiments (MOJAVE) program, which has gathered multi-epoch Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) data at 15 GHz on over 400 AGN jets over the course of two decades. The sample is large enough to encompass a range of AGN optical class, radio luminosity and synchrotron peak frequency, and has been used to show that within a particular jet, individual bright features have a spread of apparent speed and velocity vector position angle about a characteristic value. We have found that in some cases there is a secular evolution of launch angle direction over time, indicative of evolving narrow energized channels within a wider outflow. The majority of the jet features are superluminal and accelerating, with changes in speed more common than changes in direction. Within approximately 100 pc of the AGN, the flows are generally accelerating, while beyond this distance the flows begin to decelerate or remain nearly constant in speed. We also find evidence for a maximum bulk flow Lorentz factor of 50 in the pc-scale radio regime, and a trend of higher jet speeds in lower-synchrotron peaked and gamma-ray-loud blazars. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Applying Relativistic Reconnection to Blazar Jets
Galaxies 2016, 4(3), 28; doi:10.3390/galaxies4030028 -
Abstract
Rapid and luminous flares of non-thermal radiation observed in blazars require an efficient mechanism of energy dissipation and particle acceleration in relativistic active galactic nuclei (AGN) jets. Particle acceleration in relativistic magnetic reconnection is being actively studied by kinetic numerical simulations. Relativistic [...] Read more.
Rapid and luminous flares of non-thermal radiation observed in blazars require an efficient mechanism of energy dissipation and particle acceleration in relativistic active galactic nuclei (AGN) jets. Particle acceleration in relativistic magnetic reconnection is being actively studied by kinetic numerical simulations. Relativistic reconnection produces hard power-law electron energy distributions N(γ)γpexp(γ/γmax) with index p1 and exponential cut-off Lorentz factor γmaxσ in the limit of magnetization σ=B2/(4πw)1 (where w is the relativistic enthalpy density). Reconnection in electron-proton plasma can additionally boost γmax by the mass ratio mp/me. Hence, in order to accelerate particles to γmax106 in the case of BL Lacs, reconnection should proceed in plasma of very high magnetization σmax103. On the other hand, moderate mean jet magnetization values are required for magnetic bulk acceleration of relativistic jets, σmeanΓj20 (where Γj is the jet bulk Lorentz factor). I propose that the systematic dependence of γmax on blazar luminosity class—the blazar sequence—may result from a systematic trend in σmax due to homogeneous loading of leptons by pair creation regulated by the energy density of high-energy external radiation fields. At the same time, relativistic AGN jets should be highly inhomogeneous due to filamentary loading of protons, which should determine the value of σmean roughly independently of the blazar class. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Sharp Polarimetric Eyes: More Trees than Forest?
Galaxies 2016, 4(3), 27; doi:10.3390/galaxies4030027 -
Abstract
The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope (Fermi) has focused the intensive multi-wavelength and international observational effort on blazars since it was launched in 2008. Part of this effort involves systematic monitoring of the highly variable polarization of the continuum emission from [...] Read more.
The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope (Fermi) has focused the intensive multi-wavelength and international observational effort on blazars since it was launched in 2008. Part of this effort involves systematic monitoring of the highly variable polarization of the continuum emission from these objects. These observations are valuable in that they provide direct information on the degree of ordering and orientation on the sky of the magnetic field within the non-thermal emission region(s). Unfortunately, it is not yet possible to measure the polarization of the inverse-Compton continuum, only that of the lower-energy synchrotron emission. The inability to directly compare the polarization of the two dominant continuum sources in blazars is a drawback and leads to more ambiguities in determining their relative locations. There are many compelling examples of strong connections between γ-ray, X-ray, UV/optical/IR, and radio behavior in blazars that suggest the same region produces much of the observed emission at all wavelengths at least some of the time. However, the wealth of polarization behavior seen relative to flux changes invariably results in a complex situation that is difficult to interpret and model. The long-term blazar monitoring program undertaken at Steward Observatory is designed to primarily obtain accurate optical polarimetry of γ-ray-bright blazars during the Fermi mission with the goal of gaining important insights into the jet structure and physics of these objects. Data from this program are available to all researchers as soon as reductions are completed. I briefly detail the current status and progress of the program and the data products available. Although the wide variety of polarization behavior in blazars adds another layer of complexity to an already difficult problem, I summarize several important conclusions that can be drawn from the polarization information gathered during the Fermi era. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Intra-Day Simultaneous Optical Monitoring of S5 0716+714
Galaxies 2016, 4(3), 25; doi:10.3390/galaxies4030025 -
Abstract
We present the results of simultaneous optical multi-color observations of BL Lac object 0716+714 in November 2014 and February 2016. The intra-day variability (IDV) varies from 0.04 to 0.3 mags. Both achromatic and bluer-when-brighter (BWB) color behaviors were detected. A probable quasi-periodic [...] Read more.
We present the results of simultaneous optical multi-color observations of BL Lac object 0716+714 in November 2014 and February 2016. The intra-day variability (IDV) varies from 0.04 to 0.3 mags. Both achromatic and bluer-when-brighter (BWB) color behaviors were detected. A probable quasi-periodic oscillation overlapping on a significant flare was also observed. We used the interpolated cross-correlation function to calculate time lags between light curves in different bands. Variations in the B and R lagging behind that in the I band were found, which corresponds with anti-clockwise loops on the color-magnitude diagrams. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Flaring γ-Ray Emission from High Redshift Blazars
Galaxies 2016, 4(3), 26; doi:10.3390/galaxies4030026 -
Abstract
High redshift blazars are among the most powerful objects in the Universe. Although they represent a significant fraction of the extragalactic hard X-ray sky, they are not commonly detected in γ-rays. High redshift (z>2) objects represent <[...] Read more.
High redshift blazars are among the most powerful objects in the Universe. Although they represent a significant fraction of the extragalactic hard X-ray sky, they are not commonly detected in γ-rays. High redshift (z>2) objects represent <10 per cent of the active galactic nuclei (AGN) population observed by Fermi so far, and γ-ray flaring activity from these sources is even more uncommon. The characterization of the radio-to-γ-ray properties of high redshift blazars represents a powerful tool for the study of the energetics of such extreme objects and the Extragalactic Background Light. This contribution will present results of multi-band campaigns, from radio to γ-rays, on PKS 0836+710, PKS 2149−306, and TXS 0536+145. The latter is the highest redshift detection of a flaring γ-ray blazar so far. At the peaks of their respective flares these sources reached an apparent isotropic gamma-ray luminosity of about 1050 erg·s1, which is comparable with the luminosity observed from the most powerful blazars. The physical properties derived from the multi-wavelength observations of these sources are then compared with those shown by the high redshift population. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
TimeTubes: Visualization of Polarization Variations in Blazars
Galaxies 2016, 4(3), 23; doi:10.3390/galaxies4030023 -
Abstract
Optical polarization provides important clues to the magnetic field in blazar jets. It is easy to find noteworthy patterns in the time-series data of the polarization degree (PD) and position angle (PA). On the other hand, we need to see the trajectory [...] Read more.
Optical polarization provides important clues to the magnetic field in blazar jets. It is easy to find noteworthy patterns in the time-series data of the polarization degree (PD) and position angle (PA). On the other hand, we need to see the trajectory of the object in the Stokes QU plane when the object has multiple polarized components. In this case, ironically, the more data we have, the more difficult it is to gain any knowledge from it. Here, we introduce TimeTubes, a new visualization scheme to explore the time-series data of polarization observed in blazars. In TimeTubes, the data is represented by tubes in 3D (Q, U, and time) space. The measurement errors of Q and U, color, and total flux of objects are expressed as the size, color, and brightness of the tubes. As a result, TimeTubes allows us to see the behavior of six variables in one view. We used TimeTubes for our data taken by the Kanata telescope between 2008 and 2014. We found that this tool facilitates the recognition of the patterns in blazar variations; for example, favored PA of flares and PA rotations associated with a series of flares. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Optical Outburst of the Blazar S4 0954+658 in Early 2015
Galaxies 2016, 4(3), 24; doi:10.3390/galaxies4030024 -
Abstract
We analyze the behavior of the BL Lac object S4 0954+658 during an unprecedented bright optical flare in early 2015. The optical flare was accompanied by a powerful γ-ray flare and the detection of very-high-energy γ-ray emission. We analyze total [...] Read more.
We analyze the behavior of the BL Lac object S4 0954+658 during an unprecedented bright optical flare in early 2015. The optical flare was accompanied by a powerful γ-ray flare and the detection of very-high-energy γ-ray emission. We analyze total and polarized intensity images obtained with the VLBA at 43 GHz and discover a new bright polarized superluminal knot, which was ejected from the VLBI-core during the peak of the flare. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Spectral and Polarization Signatures of Relativistic Shocks in Blazars
Galaxies 2016, 4(3), 22; doi:10.3390/galaxies4030022 -
Abstract
Relativistic shocks are one of the most plausible sites of the emission of strongly variable, polarized multi-wavelength emission from relativistic jet sources such as blazars, via the diffusive shock acceleration (DSA) of relativistic particles. This paper summarizes recent results on a self-consistent [...] Read more.
Relativistic shocks are one of the most plausible sites of the emission of strongly variable, polarized multi-wavelength emission from relativistic jet sources such as blazars, via the diffusive shock acceleration (DSA) of relativistic particles. This paper summarizes recent results on a self-consistent coupling of diffusive shock acceleration and radiation transfer in blazar jets. We demonstrate that the observed spectral energy distributions (SEDs) of blazars strongly constrain the nature of hydromagnetic turbulence responsible for pitch-angle scattering by requiring a strongly energy-dependent pitch-angle mean free path. The prominent soft X-ray excess (“Big Blue Bump”) in the SED of the BL Lac object AO 0235+164 can be modelled as the signature of bulk Compton scattering of external radiation fields by the thermal electron population, which places additional constraints on the level of hydromagnetic turbulence. It has further been demonstrated that internal shocks propagating in a jet pervaded by a helical magnetic field naturally produce polarization-angle swings by 180, in tandem with multi-wavelength flaring activity, without requiring any helical motion paths or other asymmetric jet structures. The specific application of this model to 3C279 presents the first consistent simultaneous modeling of snap-shot SEDs, multi-wavelength light curves, and time-dependent polarization signatures of a blazar during a polarization-angle (PA) rotation. This model has recently been generalized to a lepto-hadronic model, in which the high-energy emission is dominated by proton synchrotron radiation. It is shown that in this case, the high-energy (X-ray and γ-ray) polarization signatures are expected to be significantly more stable (not showing PA rotations) than the low-energy (electron-synchrotron) signatures. Full article
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Open AccessEditorial
The Conference Blazars through Sharp Multi-Wavelength Eyes
Galaxies 2016, 4(3), 21; doi:10.3390/galaxies4030021 -
Abstract Blazars are active, galactic nuclei with jets of magnetized, high-energy plasma that flow outward from the center of the host galaxy at near-light speeds.[...] Full article
Open AccessArticle
Gamma-Ray Variability Induced by Microlensing on Intermediate Size Structures in Lensed Blazars
Galaxies 2016, 4(3), 20; doi:10.3390/galaxies4030020 -
Abstract
Changes of the magnification ratio of images in a lensed blazar, caused by microlensing on individual stars, have been proposed as a probe of the size and velocity of the emission region in the lensed source. We study whether similar changes in [...] Read more.
Changes of the magnification ratio of images in a lensed blazar, caused by microlensing on individual stars, have been proposed as a probe of the size and velocity of the emission region in the lensed source. We study whether similar changes in the magnification ratio can be caused by the microlensing on the intermediate size structures in the lensing galaxy, namely stellar clusters and giant molecular clouds. Our numerical simulations show that changes in the magnification ratio of two images with similar time scales (as seen in QSO B0218+357) can be obtained for relativistically-moving emission regions with sizes up to 0.01 pc in the case of microlensing on clumps in giant molecular clouds. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Time-Dependent Injection as a Model for Rapid Blazar Flares
Galaxies 2016, 4(3), 19; doi:10.3390/galaxies4030019 -
Abstract
Time-dependent injection can cause non-linear cooling effects, which lead to a faster energy loss of the electrons in jets. The most obvious result is the appearance of unique breaks in the SED, which would normally be attributed to a complicated electron distribution. [...] Read more.
Time-dependent injection can cause non-linear cooling effects, which lead to a faster energy loss of the electrons in jets. The most obvious result is the appearance of unique breaks in the SED, which would normally be attributed to a complicated electron distribution. Knowledge of the observation time and duration is important for the interpretation of the observed spectra, because of the non-trivial evolution of the spectral energy distributions (SED). Intrinsic gamma–gamma absorption processes in the emission region are only of minor importance. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
18–22 cm VLBA Observational Evidence for Toroidal B-Field Components in Six AGN Jets
Galaxies 2016, 4(3), 18; doi:10.3390/galaxies4030018 -
Abstract
The formation of relativistic jets in Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) is related to accretion onto their central supermassive black holes, and magnetic (B) fields are believed to play a central role in launching, collimating, and accelerating the jet streams from [...] Read more.
The formation of relativistic jets in Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) is related to accretion onto their central supermassive black holes, and magnetic (B) fields are believed to play a central role in launching, collimating, and accelerating the jet streams from very compact regions out to kiloparsec scales. We present results of Faraday rotation studies based on Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) data obtained at 18–22 cm for six well known AGN (OJ 287, 3C 279, PKS 1510-089, 3C 345, BL Lac, and 3C 454.3), which probe projected distances out to tens of parsecs from the observed cores. We have identified statistically significant, monotonic, transverse Faraday rotation gradients across the jets of all but one of these sources, indicating the presence of toroidal B fields, which may be one component of helical B fields associated with these AGN jets. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
The Optical Variability of the BL Lac AO 0235+164
Galaxies 2016, 4(3), 17; doi:10.3390/galaxies4030017 -
Abstract
In this work, we present optical R band observations of AO 0235+164 carried out during the period of November 2006 to December 2012 using the Ap6E CCD camera attached to the primary focus of the 70 cm meniscus telescope at Abastumani Observatory, [...] Read more.
In this work, we present optical R band observations of AO 0235+164 carried out during the period of November 2006 to December 2012 using the Ap6E CCD camera attached to the primary focus of the 70 cm meniscus telescope at Abastumani Observatory, Georgia. It shows a large variation of ΔR = 4.88 mag (14.19–19.07 mag) and a short time scale of ΔTv = 73.5 min during our monitoring period. When periodicity analysis methods are applied to the R-band data from both historic and our observations, periods P1 = 8.26 yr and P2 = 0.54 yr are found. Full article
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