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Constraining Sub-Parsec Binary Supermassive Black Holes in Quasars with Multi-Epoch Spectroscopy. II. The Population with Kinematically Offset Broad Balmer Emission Lines

  • Liu, Xin
  • Shen, Yue
  • Bian, Fuyan
  • Loeb, Abraham
  • Tremaine, Scott
Published Article
Publication Date
Jun 13, 2014
Submission Date
Dec 23, 2013
DOI: 10.1088/0004-637X/789/2/140
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A small fraction of quasars have long been known to show bulk velocity offsets in the broad Balmer lines with respect to the systemic redshift of the host galaxy. Models to explain these offsets usually invoke broad-line region gas kinematics/asymmetry around single black holes (BHs), orbital motion of massive (~sub-pc) binary black holes (BBHs), or recoil BHs, but single-epoch spectra are unable to distinguish between these scenarios. The line-of-sight (LOS) radial velocity (RV) shifts from long-term spectroscopic monitoring can be used to test the BBH hypothesis. We have selected a sample of 399 quasars with offset broad H-beta lines from the SDSS DR7 quasar catalog, and have conducted second-epoch optical spectroscopy for 50 of them. Combined with the existing SDSS spectra, the new observations enable us to constrain the LOS RV shifts of broad H-beta lines with a rest-frame baseline of a few years to nearly a decade. Using cross-correlation analysis, we detect significant (99% confidence) radial accelerations in the broad H-beta lines in 24 of the 50 objects. We suggest that 9 of the 24 detections are sub-pc BBH candidates, which show consistent velocity shifts independently measured from a second broad line (either H-alpha or Mg II) without significant changes in the broad-line profiles. Combining the results on the general quasar population studied in Paper I, we find a tentative anti-correlation between the velocity offset in the first-epoch spectrum and the average acceleration between two epochs, which could be explained by orbital phase modulation when the time separation between two epochs is a non-negligible fraction of the orbital period of the motion causing the line displacement. We discuss the implications of our results for the identification of sub-pc BBH candidates in offset-line quasars and for the constraints on their frequency and orbital parameters. [Abridged]

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