On the nature of soft X-ray weak quasi-stellar objects

W. N. Brandt, A. Laor, Beverley J. Wills

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Recent studies of quasi-stellar objects (QSOs) with ROSAT suggest the existence of a significant population of soft X-ray weak QSOs (SXW QSOs) where the soft X-ray flux is ∼10-30 times smaller than in typical QSOs. Why are these QSOs soft X-ray weak, and what is their relationship to broad absorption line QSOs (BAL QSOs) and X-ray warm absorber QSOs? As a first step in a systematic study of these objects, we establish a well-defined sample of SXW QSOs that includes all αox ≤ -2 QSOs from the Boroson & Green sample of 87 Bright Quasar Survey QSOs. SXW QSOs comprise ≈11% of this optically selected QSO sample, and we find soft X-ray weakness in both radio-quiet and radio-loud QSOs. From an analysis of C IV absorption in the 55 Boroson & Green QSOs with available C IV data, we find a remarkably strong correlation between αox and the C IV absorption equivalent width. This correlation suggests that absorption is the primary cause of soft X-ray weakness in QSOs, and it reveals a continuum of absorption properties connecting unabsorbed QSOs, X-ray warm absorber QSOs, SXW QSOs, and BAL QSOs. Many of our SXW QSOs have ultraviolet absorption that is intermediate in strength between that of X-ray warm absorber QSOs and that of BAL QSOs, and their X-ray absorption is also likely to be of intermediate strength. From a practical point of view, our correlation demonstrates that selection by soft X-ray weakness is an effective (≳80% successful) and observationally inexpensive way to find low-redshift QSOs with strong and interesting ultraviolet absorption. We have also identified several notable differences between the optical emission-line properties of SXW QSOs and those of the other Boroson & Green QSOs. SXW QSOs show systematically low [O III] luminosities and equivalent widths as well as distinctive Hβ line profiles. They tend to lie toward the weak [O III] end of Boroson & Green eigenvector 1, as do many low-ionization BAL QSOs. Unabsorbed Seyfert galaxies and QSOs with similar values of eigenvector 1 have been suggested to have extreme values of a primary physical parameter, perhaps mass accretion rate relative to the Eddington rate (Ṁ/ṀEdd). If these suggestions are correct, it is likely that SXW QSOs also tend to have generally high values of Ṁ/ṀEdd. Finally, we present and discuss correlations between αox and other QSO observables after removal of the SXW QSOs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)637-649
Number of pages13
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 PART 1
StatePublished - Jan 10 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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