Interpreting broad emission-line variations II: Tensions between luminosity, characteristic size and responsivity
2015-10-01T11:36:09Z (GMT) by
We investigate the variability behaviour of the broad H β emission-line to driving continuum variations in the best-studied AGN NGC 5548. For a particular choice of broad emission-line region (BLR) geometry, H β surface emissivity based on photoionization models, and using a scaled version of the 13-yr optical continuum light-curve as a proxy for the driving ionizing continuum, we explore several key factors that determine the broad emission-line luminosity L, characteristic size RRW, and variability amplitude (i.e. responsivity) η, as well as the interplay between them. For fixed boundary models which extend as far as the hot dust the predicted delays for H β are on average too long. However, the predicted variability amplitude of H β provides a remarkably good match to observations except during low-continuum states. We suggest that the continuum flux variations which drive the redistribution in H β surface emissivity F(r) do not on their own lead to large enough changes in RRW or ηeff. We thus investigate dust-bounded BLRs for which the location of the effective outer boundary is modulated by the continuum level and the dust-sublimation and dust-condensation time-scales. We find that in order to match the observed variability amplitude of broad H β in NGC 5548 a rather static outer boundary is preferred. Intriguingly, we show that the most effective way of reducing the H β delay, while preserving its responsivity and equivalent width, is to invoke a smaller value in the incident ionizing photon flux ΦH for a given ionizing source–cloud radial distance r, than is normally inferred from the observed UV continuum flux and typical models of the continuum spectral energy distribution.