College - Author 1
College of Science and Mathematics
Department - Author 1
Degree Name - Author 1
BS in Physics
Vardha N. Bennert, College of Science and Mathematics, Physics Department
Active galactic nuclei (AGNs) are exotic objects in the center of some galaxies with luminosities that can greatly outshine the stars of the host galaxy across the entire electromagnetic spectrum. The origin of the UV/optical light is thought to be due to accretion of material onto the supermassive black hole in their centers. Since these objects are too far away to resolve the gravitational sphere of influence of the black hole directly, we make use of a method called reverberation mapping. We measure the lag between the AGN power-law continuum emitted by the accretion disk and the Doppler-broadened emission lines which originate in gas clouds orbiting the black hole at high speeds while being ionized by the power-law continuum. Using light travel time arguments, the observed lag time can be translated into the size of the broad-line region. Combined with the width of the broad emission lines, we can estimate the black hole mass. The Seoul AGN Monitoring Project (SAMP) uses the 1m Nickel telescope of Lick Observatory to study the variability of the optical continuum emission. Combining these observations with spectroscopy of the broad-line region of the same AGNs, we can perform reverberation mapping. Our team, consisting of a handful of Cal Poly undergraduate students, is in charge of the optical imaging, controlling the 1m telescope remotely from Cal Poly. In this thesis, I present an overview of the optical imaging campaign led by the Cal Poly undergraduate students as well as first results of the observed continuum variability of the AGNs studied. Our study is special in that it targets AGNs at the high-mass end over a multi-year long campaign.