The Sloan Digital Sky Survey Reverberation Mapping Project: The Hβ Radius-Luminosity Relation

Gloria Fonseca Alvarez, Jonathan R. Trump, Y. Homayouni, C. J. Grier, Yue Shen, Keith Horne, Jennifer I.Hsiu Li, W. N. Brandt, Luis C. Ho, B. M. Peterson, D. P. Schneider

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Results from a few decades of reverberation mapping (RM) studies have revealed a correlation between the radius of the broad-line emitting region (BLR) and the continuum luminosity of active galactic nuclei. This "radius-luminosity"relation enables survey-scale black hole mass estimates across cosmic time, using relatively inexpensive single-epoch spectroscopy, rather than intensive RM time monitoring. However, recent results from newer RM campaigns challenge this widely used paradigm, reporting quasar BLR sizes that differ significantly from the previously established radius-luminosity relation. Using simulations of the radius-luminosity relation with the observational parameters of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Reverberation Mapping (SDSS-RM) project, we find that this difference is not likely due to observational biases. Instead, it appears that previous RM samples were biased to a subset of quasar properties, and the broader parameter space occupied by the SDSS-RM quasar sample has a genuinely wider range of BLR sizes. We examine the correlation between the deviations from the radius-luminosity relation and several quasar parameters; the most significant correlations indicate that the deviations depend on the UV/optical spectral energy distribution and the relative amount of ionizing radiation. Our results indicate that single-epoch black hole mass estimates that do not account for the diversity of quasars in the radius-luminosity relation could be overestimated by an average of ∼0.3 dex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number73
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 10 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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