Radio variability in seyfert nuclei

C. G. Mundell, P. Ferruit, N. Nagar, A. S. Wilson

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Comparison of 8.4GHz radio images of a sample of eleven, early-type Seyfert galaxies with previous observations reveals possible variation in the nuclear radio flux density in five of them over a seven year period. Four Seyferts (NGC 2110, NGC 3081, MCG -6-30-15, and NGC 5273) show a decline in their 8.4GHz nuclear flux density between 1992 and 1999, while one (NGC 4117) shows an increase; the flux densities of the remaining six Seyferts (Mrk 607, NGC 1386, Mrk 620, NGC 3516, NGC 4968, and NGC 7465) have remained constant over this period. New images of MCG -5-23-16 are also presented. We find no correlation between radio variability and nuclear radio luminosity or Seyfert nuclear type, although the sample is small and dominated by type 2 Seyferts. Instead, a possible correlation between the presence of nuclear radio variability and the absence of hundred parsec-scale radio emission is seen, with four out of five marginally resolved or unresolved nuclei showing a change in nuclear flux density, while five out of six extended sources show no nuclear variability despite having unresolved nuclear sources. NGC 2110 is the only source in our sample with significant extended radio structure and strong nuclear variability (38% decline in nuclear flux density over seven years). The observed nuclear flux variability indicates significant changes are likely to have occurred in the structure of the nucleus on scales smaller than the VLA beam size (i.e., within the central 01 (15pc)), between the two epochs, possibly due to the appearance and fading of new components or shocks in the jet, consistent with previous detection of subparsec-scale nuclear structure in this Seyfert. Our results suggest that all Seyferts may exhibit variation in their nuclear radio flux density at 8.4GHz, but that variability is more easily recognized in compact sources in which emission from the variable nucleus is not diluted by unresolved, constant flux density radio jet emission within the central ≲50pc. If flares in radio light curves correspond to ejection of new relativistic components or emergence of shocks in the underlying flow, improved monitoring and high-resolution imaging using VLBI techniques are required to confirm that radio jets are intrinsically non-relativistic during quiescence but that Seyferts, as black-hole-driven active galactic nuclei (AGN), have the capacity to accelerate relativistic jets during radio flares. Finally, we conclude that our results taken together with the increased detection rate of flat spectrum radio nuclei in Seyferts imaged at VLBI resolutions and the detection of variable water megamaser emission support the paradigm of intermittent periods of quiescence and nuclear outburst across the Seyfert population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)802-815
Number of pages14
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009


  • Galaxies: active
  • Galaxies: jets
  • Galaxies: Seyfert
  • Radio continuum: galaxies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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