The X-ray spectral properties and variability of luminous high-redshift active galactic nuclei

O. Shemmer, W. N. Brandt, C. Vignali, D. P. Schneider, X. Fan, G. T. Richards, Michael A. Strauss

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65 Scopus citations


We perform a detailed investigation of moderate- to high-quality X-ray spectra of 10 of the most luminous active galactic nuclei (AGNs) known at z > 4 (up to z ∼ 6.28). This study includes five new XMM-Newton observations and five archived X-ray observations (four by XMM-Newton and one by Chandrd). We find that the X-ray power-law photon indices of our sample, composed of eight radio-quiet sources and two that are moderately radio-loud, are not significantly different from those of lower redshift AGNs. The upper limits obtained on intrinsic neutral hydrogen column densities, NH ≲ 1022 - 1023 cm-2, indicate that these AGNs are not significantly absorbed. A joint fit performed on our eight radio-quiet sources, with a total of ∼ 7000 photons, constrains the mean photon index of z > 4 radio-quiet AGNs to F = 1.97-0.04+0.06, with no detectable intrinsic dispersion from source to source. We also obtain a strong constraint on the mean intrinsic column density, NH ≲ 10 22 - 1021 cm-2, showing that optically selected radio-quiet AGNs at z > 4 are, on average, not more absorbed than their lower redshift counterparts. All this suggests that the X-ray production mechanism and the central environment in radio-quiet AGNs have not significantly evolved over cosmic time. The mean equivalent width of a putative neutral narrow Fe Kα line is constrained to be ≲ 190 eV, and similarly we place constraints on the mean Compton reflection component (R ≲ 1.2). None of the AGNs varied on short (∼ 1 hr) timescales, but on longer timescales (months to years) strong variability is observed in five of the sources. In particular, the X-ray flux of the z = 5.41 radio-quiet AGN SDSS 0231-0728 dropped by a factor of ∼4 over a rest-frame period of 73 days. This is the most extreme X-ray variation observed in a luminous z > 4 radioquiet AGN.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)729-739
Number of pages11
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 I
StatePublished - Sep 10 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Galaxies: active
  • Galaxies: nuclei
  • Quasars: individual (SDSS 0231-0728)
  • X-rays: galaxies


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