Discovering the missing 2.2 < z < 3 quasars by combining optical variability and optical/near-infrared colors

Xue Bing Wu, Ran Wang, Kasper B. Schmidt, Fuyan Bian, Linhua Jiang, Xiaohui Fan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The identification of quasars in the redshift range 2.2 < z < 3 is known to be very inefficient because the optical colors of such quasars are indistinguishable from those of stars. Recent studies have proposed using optical variability or near-infrared (near-IR) colors to improve the identification of the missing quasars in this redshift range. Here we present a case study combining both methods. We select a sample of 70 quasar candidates from variables in Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) Stripe 82, which are non-ultraviolet excess sources and have UKIDSS near-IR public data. They are clearly separated into two parts on the Y - K/g - z color-color diagram, and 59 of them meet or lie close to a newly proposed Y - K/g - z selection criterion for z < 4 quasars. Of these 59 sources, 44 were previously identified as quasars in SDSS DR7, and 35 of them are quasars at 2.2 < z < 3. We present spectroscopic observations of 14 of 15 remaining quasar candidates using the Bok 2.3m telescope and the MMT 6.5m telescope, and successfully identify all of them as new quasars at z= 2.36-2.88. We also apply this method to a sample of 643 variable quasar candidates with SDSS-UKIDSS nine-band photometric data selected from 1875 new quasar candidates in SDSS Stripe 82 given by Butler & Bloom based on the time-series selections, and find that 188 of them are probably new quasars with photometric redshifts at 2.2 < z < 3. Our results indicate that the combination of optical variability and optical/near-IR colors is probably the most efficient way to find 2.2 < z < 3 quasars and is very helpful for constructing a complete quasar sample. We discuss its implications for ongoing and upcoming large optical and near-IR sky surveys.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number78
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2011


  • galaxies: active
  • quasars: emission lines
  • quasars: general

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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