Estimating black hole masses in hundreds of quasars

Nina Hernitschek, Hans Walter Rix, Jo Bovy, Eric Morganson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We explore the practical feasibility of active galactic nucleus (AGN) broadband reverberation mapping and present first results. We lay out and apply a rigorous approach for the stochastic reverberation mapping of unevenly sampled multi-broadband flux measurements, assuming that the broad-line region (BLR) line flux is contributing up to 15% in some bands, and is directly constrained by one spectroscopical epoch. The approach describes variations of the observed flux as the continuum, modeled as a stochastic Gaussian process, and emission line contribution, modeled as a scaled, smoothed, and delayed version of the continuum. This approach can be used not only to interpolate in time between measurements, but also to determine confidence limits on continuum - line emission delays. This approach is applied to Sloan Digital Sky Survey observations in Stripe 82 (S82), providing flux measurements that are precise to 2% at ∼60 epochs over ∼10 yr. The strong annual variations in the epoch sampling prove a serious limitation in practice. In addition, suitable redshift ranges must be identified where strong, broad emission lines contribute to one filter, but not to another. By generating and evaluating problem-specific mock data, we verify that S82-like data can constrain τdelay for a simple transfer function model. In application to real data, we estimate τdelay for 323 AGNs with 0.225 < z < 0.846, combining information for different objects through the ensemble-scaling relationships for BLR size and black hole mass. Our analysis tentatively indicates a 1.7 times larger BLR size of Hα and Mg II compared to Kaspi et al. and Vestergaard, but the seasonal data sampling casts doubt on the robustness of the inference.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number45
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • galaxies: photometry
  • quasars: supermassive black holes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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