Active galactic nuclei (AGNs) are well-known to exhibit flux variability across a wide range of wavelength regimes, but the precise origin of the variability at different wavelengths remains unclear. To investigate the relatively unexplored near-IR (NIR) variability of the most luminous AGNs, we conduct a search for variability using well sampled JHK<inf>s-band</inf> light curves from the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS) calibration fields. Our sample includes 27 known quasars with an average of 924 epochs of observation over three years, as well as one spectroscopically confirmed blazar (SDSS J14584479+3720215) with 1972 epochs of data. This is the best-sampled NIR photometric blazar light curve to date, and it exhibits correlated, stochastic variability that we characterize with continuous auto-regressive moving average (CARMA) models. None of the other 26 known quasars had detectable variability in the 2MASS bands above the photometric uncertainty. A blind search of the 2MASS calibration field light curves for active galactic nucleus (AGN) candidates based on fitting CARMA(1,0) models (damped-random walk) uncovered only seven candidates. All seven were young stellar objects within the ρ Ophiuchus star forming region, five with previous X-ray detections. A significant γ-ray detection (5σ) for the known blazar using 4.5 yr of Fermi photon data is also found. We suggest that strong NIR variability of blazars, such as seen for SDSS J14584479+3720215, can be used as an efficient method of identifying previously unidentified γ-ray blazars, with low contamination from other AGNs.
- quasars: general