Feature selection for classification of blazars based on optical photometric and polarimetric time-series data


Blazars can be divided into two subtypes, flat spectrum radio quasars (FSRQs) and BL Lac objects, which have been distinguished phenomenologically by the strength of their optical emission lines, while their physical nature and relationship are still not fully understood. In this paper, we focus on the differences in their variability. We characterize the blazar variability using the Ornstein-Uhlenbeck (OU) process, and investigate the features that are discriminative for the two subtypes. We used optical photometric and polarimetric data obtained with the 1.5-m Kanata telescope for 2008-2014. We found that four features, namely the variation amplitude, characteristic timescale, and non-stationarity of the variability obtained from the light curves and the median of the degree of polarization (PD), are essential for distinguishing between FSRQs and BL Lac objects. FSRQs are characterized by rare and large flares, while the variability of BL Lac objects can be reproduced with a stationary OU process with relatively small amplitudes. The characteristics of the variability are governed not by the differences in the jet structure between the subtypes, but by the peak frequency of the synchrotron emission. This implies that the nature of the variation in the jets is common in FSRQs and BL Lac objects. We found that BL Lac objects tend to have high PD medians, which suggests that they have a stable polarization component. FSRQs have no such component, possibly because of a strong Compton cooling effect in sub-pc scale jets.

Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan