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Astron. Astrophys. Suppl. Ser. 135, 477-486

Optical microvariability of southern AGNs[*]

G.E. Romero12[*][*] - S.A. Cellone3 - J.A. Combi12

Send offprint request: G.E. Romero, first address.

1 - Instituto Argentino de Radioastronomía, C.C.5, (1894) Villa Elisa, Bs. As., Argentina
2 - Departamento de Física, UNLP, C.C. 67, 1900 La Plata, Argentina
3 - Facultad de Ciencias Astronómicas y Geofísicas, UNLP, Paseo del Bosque, 1900 La Plata, Argentina

Received August 6; accepted November 9, 1998


We present results of a search for optical microvariability in a selected sample of 23 southern AGNs, which includes both radio-quiet and radio-loud objects. Microvariations were clearly detected in 60% of the radio-loud sources, with amplitudes from 2.2% up to 8% within a single night. Night-to-night variability with amplitudes of $\sim\!20$% was also observed in the BL Lac object 0537-441. On the contrary, no rapid variability was detected at all in 8 radio-quiet quasars. We have used microvariability data previously reported for northern objects along with our new results for southern AGNs in order to estimate duty cycles of each class of objects from the largest possible sample.

Most of the microvariability in radio-loud objects could be originating in interactions between relativistic shocks and features in the inner jets, although contributions from superluminal microlensing and accretion disk instabilities can be present in some sources. It is possible that the latter phenomenon is responsible for the microvariability observed in northern radio-quiet quasars. We suggest that the difference in the microvariability behaviour of radio and X-ray selected BL Lacs could be due to the effect of stronger magnetic fields in the latter group of objects, fields that can prevent the formation of features like density inhomogeneities and bends in the base of the jets by Kelvin-Helmholtz macroscopic instabilities.

Key words: galaxies: active -- BL Lacertae objects: general -- quasars: general -- galaxies: photometry

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