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The Astrophysical Journal


Despite the contributions of the Hubble Space Telescope Faint Object Spectrograph (FOS) to the archive of UV observations of active galactic nuclei, the vast majority of UV reference data were obtained using the International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE) satellite. These data remain important since they provide historical information about the intensities of the UV continua and emission lines that is needed to constrain models of the active nucleus. A detailed comparison of the FOS and IUE data is critical to understanding how the measurable quantities depend on the individual instrumental calibrations, and how any conclusions derived from modeling the observations may vary depending on the source of the UV data. Rigorous comparison of FOS and IUE spectra have so far been performed only for spectrophotometric standard star observations that are acquired accurately and have high signal-to-noise ratios. We compare typical FOS spectra that were not acquired and observed with the strict regimen that is used for standard-star observations, especially in the pre-COSTAR era.

All nonproprietary UV FOS spectrophotometric archival data for the Seyfert 1 galaxies Mrk 509, NGC 3783, and NGC 5548 that have near-simultaneous (within 24 hr) IUE observations are used in the analysis. These data demonstrate that the absolute photometric calibrations of the FOS and IUE agree within ~5% in absolute flux for two of the objects. For NGC 5548, the FOS and IUE flux data disagree by ~50% in the 1200-2000 Å region. In this object there may be evidence for flux nonlinearity of the IUE detector and a contribution from the host galaxy redward of 2800 Å. Cross-correlation of the FOS and IUE spectra reveals no zero-point wavelength shift larger than the IUE wavelength calibration errors. Comparison of line flux measurements from both the FOS and IUE spectra show that for strong emission lines (e.g., Lyα, C IV, and Mg II) the measured intensities always agree within 15%, while for moderately strong lines (e.g., N V, Si IV/O IV, He II, and C III]) the agreement is ~30% (1 σ). Weak lines (e.g., O I, C II, N IV], O III], and N III]) may not even be detected in the IUE spectra, and when they are detected the disagreement between the measured fluxes can be very large.