We present the second extensive study of the coronal line variability in an active galaxy. Our data set for the well-studied Seyfert galaxy NGC 5548 consists of five epochs of quasi-simultaneous optical and near-infrared spectroscopy spanning a period of about five years and three epochs of X-ray spectroscopy overlapping in time with it. Whereas the broad emission lines and hot dust emission varied only moderately, the coronal lines varied strongly. However, the observed high variability is mainly due to a flux decrease. Using the optical [Fe vii] and X-ray O vii emission lines we estimate that the coronal line gas has a relatively low density of ne ~ 103 cm−3 and a relatively high ionisation parameter of log U ~ 1. The resultant distance of the coronal line gas from the ionizing source of about eight light-years places this region well beyond the hot inner face of the dusty torus. These results imply that the coronal line region is an independent entity. We find again support for the X-ray heated wind scenario of Pier & Voit; the increased ionizing radiation that heats the dusty torus also increases the cooling efficiency of the coronal line gas, most likely due to a stronger adiabatic expansion. The much stronger coronal line variability of NGC 5548 relative to that of NGC 4151 can also be explained within this picture. NGC 5548 has much stronger coronal lines relative to the low-ionization lines than NGC 4151 indicating a stronger wind, in which case a stronger adiabatic expansion of the gas and so fading of the line emission is expected.

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Published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, v. 454, no. 4, p. 3688-3696.

This article has been accepted for publication in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society ©: 2015 The Authors. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.

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HL is supported by a European Union COFUND/Durham Junior Research Fellowship (under EU grant agreement no. 267209). KCS thanks the astronomy group at Durham University for its hospitality during a collaborative visit. GJF acknowledges support by NSF (1108928, 1109061, and 1412155), NASA (10-ATP10-0053, 10-ADAP10-0073, NNX12AH73G, and ATP13-0153), and STScI (HST-AR-13245, GO-12560, HST-GO-12309, GO-13310.002-A, and HST-AR-13914), and to the Leverhulme Trust for support via the award of a Visiting Professorship at Queen’s University Belfast (VP1-2012-025).