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Astron. Astrophys. 327, 539-549 (1997)

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Very rapid optical variability of PKS 2155-304

S. Paltani 1, 2, 3, T.J.-L. Courvoisier 2, 3, A. Blecha 2 and P. Bratschi 2, 3

1 Centre d'Etude Spatiale des Rayonnements, 9, av. du Colonel-Roche, F-31029 Toulouse Cedex, France
2 Geneva Observatory, ch. des Maillettes 51, CH-1290 Sauverny, Switzerland
3 INTEGRAL Science Data Centre, ch. d'Ecogia 16, CH-1290 Versoix, Switzerland

Received 9 May 1997 / Accepted 24 June 1997


We have performed an optical observation campaign on PKS 2155-304, whose aim was to determine the variability properties of this object on very short time scales in several photometric bands. We detected variability on time scales as short as 15 min.

The Fourier properties of the light curves have been investigated using structure function analysis. The power spectra are well described by a power-law with an index -2.4. It is compatible with the index found in the X-ray domain. The value of this index shows that the light curves cannot be generated by a sum of exponential pulses. Using historical data, we find that the longest time scale of variability in the optical domain lies between 10 and 40 days.

We find a strong correlation between flux and spectral index, which we interpret as the signature of an underlying constant component. As a result we do not find evidence of spectral variation for the active nucleus in the optical domain.

A lag has been found between the light curves in different optical bands. The short-wavelength light curves lead the long-wavelength ones. The amplitude of the lag is about 40 min for a factor 2 in wavelength.

Our results are compared with predictions from different models. None of them can explain naturally the set of results obtained with this campaign, but we bring out some clues for the origin of the variability.

Key words: BL Lacertae objects: individual: PKS 2155-304 – galaxies: photometry

Send offprint requests to: Stéphane Paltani (ISDC), (Stephane.Paltani@obs.unige.ch)

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© European Southern Observatory (ESO) 1997

Online publication: April 6, 1998