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Published July 1, 2011 | Published
Journal Article Open

On the Location of the γ-Ray Outburst Emission in the BL Lacertae Object AO 0235+164 Through Observations Across the Electromagnetic Spectrum


We present observations of a major outburst at centimeter, millimeter, optical, X-ray, and γ-ray wavelengths of the BL Lacertae object AO 0235+164. We analyze the timing of multi-waveband variations in the flux and linear polarization, as well as changes in Very Long Baseline Array images at λ = 7 mm with ~0.15 milliarcsec resolution. The association of the events at different wavebands is confirmed at high statistical significance by probability arguments and Monte Carlo simulations. A series of sharp peaks in optical linear polarization, as well as a pronounced maximum in the 7 mm polarization of a superluminal jet knot, indicate rapid fluctuations in the degree of ordering of the magnetic field. These results lead us to conclude that the outburst occurred in the jet both in the quasi-stationary "core" and in the superluminal knot, both parsecs downstream of the supermassive black hole. We interpret the outburst as a consequence of the propagation of a disturbance, elongated along the line of sight by light-travel time delays, that passes through a standing recollimation shock in the core and propagates down the jet to create the superluminal knot. The multi-wavelength light curves vary together on long timescales (months/years), but the correspondence is poorer on shorter timescales. This, as well as the variability of the polarization and the dual location of the outburst, agrees with the expectations of a multi-zone emission model in which turbulence plays a major role in modulating the synchrotron and inverse Compton fluxes.

Additional Information

© 2011 American Astronomical Society. Received 2011 April 27; accepted 2011 May 18; published 2011 June 6. We acknowledge the anonymous referee for constructive comments. This research was funded by NASA grants NX08AJ64G, NNX08AU02G, NNX08AV61G, and NNX08AV65G, NSF grant AST-0907893, and NRAO award GSSP07-0009 (Boston University); RFBR grant 09-02-00092 (St. Petersburg State University); MICIIN grant AYA2010-14844, and CEIC (Andalucía) grant P09-FQM-4784 (IAACSIC); the Academy of Finland (Metsähovi); NASA grants NNX08AW56S and NNX09AU10G (Steward Observatory); and GNSF grant ST08/4-404 (Abastunami Observatory). The VLBA is an instrument of the NRAO, a facility of the NSF under cooperative agreement by AUI. The PRISM camera was developed by Janes et al. and funded by NSF, Boston University, and Lowell Observatory. Calar Alto Observatory is operated by MPIA and IAA-CSIC. The IRAM 30 m Telescope is supported by INSU/CNRS, MPG, and IGN. The SMA is a joint project between the SAO and the Academia Sinica.

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