Black hole mass estimates based on CIV are consistent with those based on the balmer lines

R. J. Assef, K. D. Denney, C. S. Kochanek, B. M. Peterson, S. Kozłowski, N. Ageorges, R. S. Barrows, P. Buschkamp, M. Dietrich, E. Falco, C. Feiz, H. Gemperlein, A. Germeroth, C. J. Grier, R. Hofmann, M. Juette, R. Khan, M. Kilic, V. Knierim, W. LaunR. Lederer, M. Lehmitz, R. Lenzen, U. Mall, K. K. Madsen, H. Mandel, P. Martini, S. Mathur, K. Mogren, P. Mueller, V. Naranjo, A. Pasquali, K. Polsterer, R. W. Pogge, A. Quirrenbach, W. Seifert, D. Stern, B. Shappee, C. Storz, J. Van Saders, P. Weiser, D. Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Scopus citations


Using a sample of high-redshift lensed quasars from the CASTLES project with observed-frame ultraviolet or optical and near-infrared spectra, we have searched for possible biases between supermassive black hole (BH) mass estimates based on the C IV, Hα, and Hβ broad emission lines. Our sample is based upon that of Greene, Peng, & Ludwig, expanded with new near-IR spectroscopic observations, consistently analyzed high signal-to-noise ratio (S/N) optical spectra, and consistent continuum luminosity estimates at 5100 . We find that BH mass estimates based on the full width at half-maximum (FWHM) of C IV show a systematic offset with respect to those obtained from the line dispersion, σl, of the same emission line, but not with those obtained from the FWHM of Hα and Hβ. The magnitude of the offset depends on the treatment of the He II and Fe II emission blended with C IV, but there is little scatter for any fixed measurement prescription. While we otherwise find no systematic offsets between C IV and Balmer line mass estimates, we do find that the residuals between them are strongly correlated with the ratio of the UV and optical continuum luminosities. This means that much of the dispersion in previous comparisons of C IV and Hβ BH mass estimates are due to the continuum luminosities rather than to any properties of the lines. Removing this dependency reduces the scatter between the UV- and optical-based BH mass estimates by a factor of approximately two, from roughly 0.35 to 0.18 dex. The dispersion is smallest when comparing the C IV σl mass estimate, after removing the offset from the FWHM estimates, and either Balmer line mass estimate. The correlation with the continuum slope is likely due to a combination of reddening, host contamination, and object-dependent SED shapes. When we add additional heterogeneous measurements from the literature, the results are unchanged. Moreover, in a trial observation of a remaining outlier, the origin of the deviation is clearly due to unrecognized absorption in a low S/N spectrum. This not only highlights the importance of the quality of the observations, but also raises the question whether cases like this one are common in the literature, further biasing comparisons between C IV and other broad emission lines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number93
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • galaxies: active
  • gravitational lensing: strong
  • quasars: emission lines

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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