Aims. We study the ensemble X-ray variability properties of active galactic nuclei (AGN) over large ranges of timescale (20 ks ≤ T ≤ 14 yr), redshift (0 ≤ z ≲ 3), luminosity (1040 erg s−1 ≤ LX ≤ 1046 erg s−1), and black hole (BH) mass (106 ≤ M⊙ ≤ 109). Methods. We propose the use of the variance-frequency diagram as a viable alternative to the study of the power spectral density (PSD), which is not yet accessible for distant, faint, and/or sparsely sampled AGN. Results. We show that the data collected from archival observations and previous literature studies are fully consistent with a universal PSD form, which does not show any evidence for systematic evolution of shape or amplitude with redshift or luminosity, even if there may be differences between individual AGN at a given redshift or luminosity. We find new evidence that the PSD bend frequency depends on BH mass and possibly on accretion rate. We finally discuss the implications for current and future AGN population and cosmological studies.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science