Now you see it, now you don't: The disappearing central engine of the quasar J1011+5442

Jessie C. Runnoe, Sabrina Cales, John J. Ruan, Michael Eracleous, Scott F. Anderson, Yue Shen, Paul J. Green, Eric Morganson, Stephanie LaMassa, Jenny E. Greene, Tom Dwelly, Donald P. Schneider, Andrea Merloni, Antonis Georgakakis, A. Roman-Lopes

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71 Scopus citations


We report the discovery of a new 'changing-look' quasar, SDSS J101152.98+544206.4, through repeat spectroscopy from the Time Domain Spectroscopic Survey. This is an addition to a small but growing set of quasars whose blue continua and broad optical emission lines have been observed to decline by a large factor on a time-scale of approximately a decade. The 5100 Å monochromatic continuum luminosity of this quasar drops by a factor of >9.8 in a rest-frame time interval of <9.7 yr, while the broad Hα luminosity drops by a factor of 55 in the same amount of time. The width of the broad Hα line increases in the dim state such that the black hole mass derived from the appropriate single-epoch scaling relation agrees between the two epochs within a factor of 3. The fluxes of the narrow emission lines do not appear to change between epochs. The light curve obtained by the Catalina Sky Survey suggests that the transition occurs within a rest-frame time interval of approximately 500 d. We examine three possible mechanisms for this transition suggested in the recent literature. An abrupt change in the reddening towards the central engine is disfavoured by the substantial difference between the time-scale to obscure the central engine and the observed time-scale of the transition. A decaying tidal disruption flare is consistent with the decay rate of the light curve but not with the prolonged bright state preceding the decay; nor can this scenario provide the power required by the luminosities of the emission lines. An abrupt drop in the accretion rate on to the supermassive black hole appears to be the most plausible explanation for the rapid dimming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1691-1701
Number of pages11
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Accretion
  • Accretion discs
  • Galaxies: active
  • Quasars: general


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