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Characterising X-ray variability in light curves with complex sampling patterns: application to the eROSITA south ecliptic pole survey

David BogensbergerKirpal NandraJohannes Buchner
Jan 2024
Aims: During its all-sky survey phase, the eROSITA X-ray telescope onboard SRG scans through the ecliptic poles every 4 hours. This extensive data set of long-duration, frequent, and consistent observations of thousands of X-ray sources is ideal for a detailed long-term X-ray variability analysis. However, individual observations are short, are separated by long but consistent gaps, and have varying exposure times. Therefore, the identification of variable sources, and the characterisation and quantification of their variability requires a unique methodology. We aim to develop and evaluate such methods for eROSITA observations, focusing on sources close to the survey poles. Methods: We simulate eROSITA-like light curves to evaluate and quantify the effect of survey mode observations on the measured periodogram and normalised excess variance. We introduce a new method for estimating the normalised intrinsic variance of a source based on the Bayesian excess variance (bexvar) method. Results: We determine thresholds for identifying likely variable sources while minimising the false-positive rate, as a function of the number of bins, and the average count rate in the light curve. The bexvar normalised intrinsic variance estimate is significantly more accurate than the normalised excess variance method in the Poisson regime. At high count rates, the two methods are comparable. We quantify the scatter in the intrinsic variance of a stationary pink noise process, and investigate how to reduce it. Finally, we determine a description of the excess noise in a periodogram caused by varying exposure times throughout a light curve. Although most of these methods were developed specifically for analysing variable AGN in the eROSITA all-sky survey, they can also be used for the variability analysis of other datasets from other telescopes, with slight modifications.
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