Variation in the scattering shroud surrounding markarian 231

S. C. Gallagher, Gary D. Schmidt, Paul S. Smith, W. N. Brandt, G. Chartas, Shavonne Hylton, D. C. Hines, M. S. Brotherton

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29 Scopus citations


We present a detailed study of the nuclear structure of the highly polarized broad absorption line quasar, Mrk 231, through a multiwavelength campaign of Chandra observations, optical spectroscopy, optical spectropolarimetry, and imaging polarimetry. This campaign was designed to extend the 40 ks Chandra study of Gallagher and coworkers and the optical and UV spectropolarimetric study of Smith and coworkers to probe variability on multiple timescales. As direct emission from the nucleus is heavily obscured at optical through X-ray wavelengths, the detailed study of scattered emission has lead to insights into the stratified and complex central region of this active galaxy. Although significant continuum variability is not detected in any of the three new 40 ks Chandra observations, we investigate Fe Kα emission features in the individual and combined spectra. Comparing echelle spectra of the Na I D absorption lines with the literature, we show that one system disappeared in 2000 only to reappear in later epochs. Notably, we detect a large decrease in polarization across the entire optical spectrum of Mrk 231 from 1995 to 2003. Although the polarization fraction fell, e.g., from 4% to 3% at λobs ∼ 6000 Å, the polarization position angle spectrum remained unchanged. The optical polarization behavior is consistent with a decrease in the flux scattered by circumnuclear material on spatial scales where the broad-line region is resolved by the scattering material. Ultraviolet imaging polarimetry of Mrk 231 by the Hubble Space Telescope sets an upper limit on the distance between the active nucleus and the scattering regions of <20 pc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-85
Number of pages15
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 I
StatePublished - Nov 1 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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