Authors: Bence Béky, Bence Kocsis (Harvard)
Date: 15 Oct 2012
Abstract: Supermassive black holes (SMBH) are typically surrounded by a dense stellar population in galactic nuclei. Stars crossing the line of site in active galactic nuclei (AGN) produce a characteristic transit lightcurve, just like extrasolar planets do when they transit their host star. We examine the possibility of finding such AGN transits in deep optical, UV, and X-ray surveys. We calculate transit lightcurves using the Novikov--Thorne thin accretion disk model, including general relatistic effects. Based on the expected properties of stellar cusps, we find that around 10ˆ6 solar mass SMBHs, transits of red giants are most common for stars on close orbits with transit durations of a few weeks and orbital periods of a few years. We find that detecting AGN transits requires repeated observations of thousands of low mass AGNs to 1% photometric accuracy in optical, or ~ 10% in UV bands or soft X-ray. It may be possible to identify stellar transits in the Pan-STARRS and LSST optical and the eROSITA X-ray surveys. Such observations could be used to constrain black hole mass, spin, inclination and accretion rate. Transit rates and durations could give valuable information on the circumnuclear stellar clusters as well. Transit lightcurves could be used to image accretion disks with unprecedented resolution, allowing to resolve the SMBH silhouette in distant AGNs.
© M. Vallisneri 2012 — last modified on 2010/01/29
Tantum in modicis, quantum in maximis