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Published August 20, 2017 | Submitted + Published
Journal Article Open

The peculiar light-curve of J1415+1320: A case study in extreme scattering events


The radio light curve of J1415+1320 (PKS 1413+135) shows time-symmetric and recurring U-shaped features across the centimeter-wave and millimeter-wave bands. The symmetry of these features points to lensing by an intervening object as the cause. U-shaped events in radio light curves in the centimeter-wave band have previously been attributed to Extreme scattering events (ESE). ESEs are thought to be the result of lensing by compact plasma structures in the Galactic interstellar medium, but the precise nature of these plasma structures remains unknown. Since the strength of a plasma lens evolves with wavelength λ as χ^2, the presence of correlated variations at over a wide wavelength range casts doubt on the canonical ESE interpretation for J1415+1320. In this paper, we critically examine the evidence for plasma lensing in J1415+1320. We compute limits on the lensing strength and the associated free–free opacity of the putative plasma lenses. We compare the observed and model ESE light curves, and also derive a lower limit on the lens distance based on the effects of parallax due to the Earth's orbit around the Sun. We conclude that plasma lensing is not a viable interpretation for J1415+1320's light curves and that symmetric U-shaped features in the radio light curves of extragalactic sources do not present prima facie evidence for ESEs. The methodology presented here is generic enough to be applicable to any plasma-lensing candidate.

Additional Information

© 2017 The American Astronomical Society. Received 2016 December 5; revised 2017 May 30; accepted 2017 June 1; published 2017 August 15. The authors thank Sterl Phinney and Shrinivas Kulkarni for useful discussions. The OVRO 40 m program has been supported by NASA grants NNG06GG1G, NNX08AW31G, NNX11A043G, and NNX13AQ89G and NSF grants AST-0808050 and AST-1109911. The Submillimeter Array is a joint project between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics and is funded by the Smithsonian Institution and the Academia Sinica. H.V. is an RA & GB Millikan fellow of experimental physics. T.H. was supported in part by the Academy of Finland project number 267324. R.R. gratefully acknowledges support from the Chilean Basal Centro de Excelencia en Astrofisica y Tecnologias Afines (CATA) grant PFB-06/2007.

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Published - Vedantham_2017_ApJ_845_90.pdf

Submitted - 1702.05519.pdf


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August 21, 2023
October 17, 2023