A Spectroscopic Search for AGN Activity in the Reionization Era

Nicolas Laporte, Kimihiko Nakajima, Richard S. Ellis, Adi Zitrin, Daniel P. Stark, Ramesh Mainali, G. W. Roberts-Borsani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


The ubiquity of Lyman alpha (Lyα) emission in a sample of four bright [O iii]-strong star-forming galaxies with redshifts above seven has led to the suggestion that such luminous sources represent a distinct population compared with their fainter, more numerous counterparts. The presence of Lyα emission within the reionization era could indicate that these sources created early ionized bubbles due to their unusually strong radiation, possibly because of the presence of active galactic nuclei. To test this hypothesis, we secured long integration spectra with XSHOOTER on the VLT for three sources selected to have similar luminosities and prominent excess fluxes in the IRAC 3.6 or 4.5 μm band, usually attributed to strong [O iii] emission. We secured additional spectroscopy for one of these galaxies at z = 7.15 using MOSFIRE at the Keck telescope. For the most well-studied source in our sample with the strongest IRAC excess, we detect significant nebular emission from He ii and N v indicative of a non-thermal source. For the other two sources at z = 6.81 and z = 6.85, for which no previous optical/near-infrared spectroscopy was available, Lyα is seen in one and C iii] emission in the other. Although based on a modest sample, our results further support the hypothesis that the phenomenon of intense [O iii] emission is associated preferentially with sources lying in early ionized bubbles. However, even though one of our sources at z = 7.15 suggests the presence of non-thermal radiation, such ionized bubbles may not uniquely arise in this manner. We discuss the unique advantages of extending such challenging diagnostic studies with JWST.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number40
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 10 2017


  • early universe
  • galaxies: distances and redshifts
  • galaxies: evolution
  • galaxies: formation
  • infrared: galaxies
  • stars: formation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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