Polarization angle swings in blazars: The case of 3C 279

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • S. Kiehlmann
  • S. G. Jorstad
  • K. V. Sokolovsky
  • F. K. Schinzel
  • A. P. Marscher
  • V. M. Larionov
  • I. Agudo
  • H. Akitaya
  • E. Benítez
  • A. Berdyugin
  • D. A. Blinov
  • N. G. Bochkarev
  • G. A. Borman
  • A. N. Burenkov
  • C. Casadio
  • V. T. Doroshenko
  • N. V. Efimova
  • Y. Fukazawa
  • J. L. Gómez
  • T. S. Grishina
  • V. A. Hagen-Thorn
  • J. Heidt
  • D. Hiriart
  • R. Itoh
  • M. Joshi
  • K. S. Kawabata
  • G. N. Kimeridze
  • E. N. Kopatskaya
  • I. V. Korobtsev
  • T. Krajci
  • O. M. Kurtanidze
  • S. O. Kurtanidze
  • E. G. Larionova
  • L. V. Larionova
  • E. Lindfors
  • J. M. López
  • I. M. McHardy
  • S. N. Molina
  • Y. Moritani
  • D. A. Morozova
  • S. V. Nazarov
  • M. G. Nikolashvili
  • K. Nilsson
  • N. G. Pulatova
  • R. Reinthal
  • A. Sadun
  • M. Sasada
  • S. S. Savchenko
  • S. G. Sergeev
  • L. A. Sigua
  • P. S. Smith
  • M. Sorcia
  • O. I. Spiridonova
  • K. Takaki
  • L. O. Takalo
  • B. Taylor
  • I. S. Troitsky
  • M. Uemura
  • L. S. Ugolkova
  • T. Ui
  • M. Yoshida
  • J. A. Zensus
  • V. E. Zhdanova

Research units

  • Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy
  • St. Petersburg State University
  • National Observatory of Athens
  • University of New Mexico
  • Boston University
  • RAS - Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory
  • CSIC
  • Hiroshima University
  • Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico
  • University of Turku
  • University of Crete
  • Lomonosov Moscow State University
  • Crimean Astrophysical Observatory
  • Special Astrophysical Observatory, Russian Academy of Sciences
  • Heidelberg University 
  • RAS - Institute of Solar-Terrestrial Physics, Siberian Branch
  • Center for Backyard Astrophysics - New Mexico
  • Kazan Federal University
  • University of Southampton
  • University of Tokyo
  • University of Arizona
  • Lowell Observatory
  • Astro Space Center of the Lebedev Physical Institute, 117997, Moscow, Russia
  • Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas
  • Abastumani Observatory
  • University of Colorado Boulder


Context. Over the past few years, on several occasions, large, continuous rotations of the electric vector position angle (EVPA) of linearly polarized optical emission from blazars have been reported. These events are often coincident with high energy γ-ray flares and they have attracted considerable attention, since they could allow us to probe the magnetic field structure in the γ-ray emitting region of the jet. The flat-spectrum radio quasar 3C 279 is one of the most prominent examples showing this behaviour. Aims. Our goal is to study the observed EVPA rotations and to distinguish between a stochastic and a deterministic origin of the polarization variability. Methods. We have combined multiple data sets of R-band photometry and optical polarimetry measurements of 3C 279, yielding exceptionally well-sampled flux density and polarization curves that cover a period of 2008-2012. Several large EVPA rotations are identified in the data. We introduce a quantitative measure for the EVPA curve smoothness, which is then used to test a set of simple random walk polarization variability models against the data. Results. 3C 279 shows different polarization variation characteristics during an optical low-flux state and a flaring state. The polarization variation during the flaring state, especially the smooth ∼360° rotation of the EVPA in mid-2011, is not consistent with the tested stochastic processes. Conclusions. We conclude that, during the two different optical flux states, two different processes govern polarization variation, which is possibly a stochastic process during the low-brightness state and a deterministic process during the flaring activity.


Original languageEnglish
Article number27725
Number of pages20
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2016
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

    Research areas

  • Galaxies: active, Galaxies: jets, Polarization, Quasars: individual: 3C 279

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