Evidence for non-evolving fe II/Mg II ratios in rapidly accreting z ∼ 6 QSOs

G. De Rosa, R. Decarli, F. Walter, X. Fan, L. Jiang, J. Kurk, A. Pasquali, H. W. Rix

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Quasars (QSOs) at the highest known redshift (z 6) are unique probes of the early growth of supermassive black holes (BHs). Until now, only the most luminous QSOs have been studied, often one object at a time. Here we present the most extensive consistent analysis to date of 4 < z < 6.5 QSOs with observed near-infrared spectra, combining three new z 6 objects from our ongoing Very Large Telescope-Infrared Spectrometer And Array Camera program with nineteen sources from the literature. The new sources extend the existing Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) sample toward the faint end of the QSO luminosity function. Using a maximum likelihood fitting routine optimized for our spectral decomposition, we estimate the BH mass (M BH), the Eddington ratio (defined as L bol/L Edd), and the Fe II/Mg II line ratio, a proxy for the chemical abundance, to characterize both the central object and the broad-line region gas. The QSOs in our sample host BHs with masses of 109 M that are accreting close to the Eddington luminosity, consistent with earlier results. We find that the distribution of observed Eddington ratios is significantly different than that of a luminosity-matched comparison sample of SDSS QSOs at lower redshift (0.35 < z < 2.25): the average 〈log (L bol/L Edd)〉 = -0.37 (L bol/L Edd 0.43) with a scatter of 0.20dex for the z > 4 sample and the 〈log (L bol/L Edd)〉 = -0.80 (L bol/L Edd 0.16) with a scatter of 0.24dex for the 0.35 < z < 2.25 sample. This implies that, at a given luminosity, the M BH at high-z is typically lower than the average M BH of the lower-redshift population, i.e., the z > 4 sources are accreting significantly faster than the lower-redshift ones. We show that the derived Fe II/Mg II ratios depend sensitively on the analysis performed: our self-consistent, homogeneous analysis significantly reduces the Fe II/Mg II scatter found in previous studies. The measured Fe II/Mg II line ratios show no sign of evolution with cosmic time in the redshift range 4 < z < 6.5. If the Fe II/Mg II line ratio is used as a secondary proxy of the Fe/Mg abundance ratio, this implies that the QSOs in our sample have undergone a major episode of Fe enrichment in the few 100 Myr preceding the cosmic age at which they are observed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number56
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1 2011


  • cosmology: observations
  • galaxies: active
  • galaxies: formation
  • galaxies: high-redshift
  • quasars: emission lines
  • quasars: general

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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