We present our investigation into the long-term variability of the X-ray obscuration and optical-UV-X-ray continuum in the Seyfert 1 galaxy NGC 5548. In 2013 and 2014, the Swift observatory monitored NGC 5548 on average every day or two, with archival observations reaching back to 2005, totalling about 670 ks of observing time. Both broadband spectral modelling and temporal rms variability analysis are applied to the Swift data. We disentangle the variability caused by absorption, due to an obscuring weakly-ionised outflow near the disk, from variability of the intrinsic continuum components (the soft X-ray excess and the power-law) originating from the disk and its associated coronae. The spectral model that we apply to this extensive Swift data is the global model that we derived for NGC 5548 from analysis of the stacked spectra from our multi-satellite campaign of summer 2013 (including XMM-Newton, NuSTAR and HST). The results of our Swift study show that changes in the covering fraction of the obscurer is the primary and dominant cause of variability in the soft X-ray band on timescales of 10 days to ~ 5 months. The obscuring covering fraction of the X-ray source is found to range between 0.7 and nearly 1.0. The contribution of the soft excess component to the X-ray variability is often much less than that of the obscurer, but it becomes comparable when the optical-UV continuum flares up. We find that the soft excess is consistent with being the high-energy tail of the optical-UV continuum and can be explained by warm Comptonisation: up-scattering of the disk seed photons in a warm, optically thick corona as part of the inner disk. To this date, the Swift monitoring of NGC 5548 shows that the obscurer has been continuously present in our line of sight for at least 4 years (since at least February 2012).
M. Mehdipour, J. Kaastra, G. Kriss, et. al.
Wed, 10 Feb 16
Comments: Accepted for publication in Astronomy & Astrophysics (A&A), 12 pages, 10 figures