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Astron. Astrophys. 361, 850-862 (2000)

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Modelling 20 years of synchrotron flaring in the jet of 3C 273

M. Türler 1,2, T.J.-L. Courvoisier 1,2 and S. Paltani 1,2

1 Geneva Observatory, ch. des Maillettes 51, 1290 Sauverny, Switzerland
2 INTEGRAL Science Data Centre, ch. d'Écogia 16, 1290 Versoix, Switzerland

Received 2 March 2000 / Accepted 5 July 2000


We present a phenomenological jet model which is able to reproduce well the observed variations of the submillimetre-to-radio emission of the bright quasar 3C 273 during the last 20 years. It is a generalization of the original shock model of Marscher & Gear (1985), which is now able to describe an accelerating or decelerating shock wave, in a curved, non-conical and non-adiabatic jet. The model defines the properties of a synchrotron outburst which is expected to be emitted by the jet material in a small region just behind the shock front. By a proper parameterization of the average outburst's evolution and of the peculiarities of individual outbursts, we are able to decompose simultaneously thirteen long-term light-curves of 3C 273 in a series of seventeen distinct outbursts. It is the first time that a model is so closely confronted to the long-term multi-wavelength variability properties of a quasar.

The ability of the model to reproduce the very different shapes of the submillimetre-to-radio light curves of 3C 273 gives strong support to the shock model of Marscher & Gear (1985). Indirectly, it also reinforces the idea that the outbursts seen in the light-curves are physically linked to the distinct features observed to move along the jet with apparently superluminal velocities. The more than 5000 submillimetre-to-radio observations in the different light-curves are able to constrain the physical properties of the jet. The results suggest, for instance, that the magnetic field behind the shock front is rather turbulent. There is also some evidence that the jet radius does not increase linearly with distance down the jet or, alternatively, that the synchrotron emitting material decelerates with distance and/or bends away from the line-of-sight.

Key words: radiation mechanisms: non-thermal – galaxies: active – galaxies: jets – galaxies: quasars: individual: 3C 273 – radio continuum: galaxies

Send offprint requests to: M. Türler (ISDC) (Marc.Turler@obs.unige.ch)

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© European Southern Observatory (ESO) 2000

Online publication: October 10, 2000