Host galaxy colour gradients and accretion disc obscuration in AEGIS z ~ 1 X-ray-selected active galactic nuclei

C. M. Pierce, J. M. Lotz, S. Salim, E. S. Laird, A. L. Coil, K. Bundy, C. N.A. Willmer, D. J.V. Rosario, J. R. Primack, S. M. Faber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


We describe the effect of active galactic nucleus (AGN) light on host galaxy optical and UV-optical colours, as determined from X-ray-selected AGN host galaxies at z~ 1, and compare the AGN host galaxy colours to those of a control sample matched to the AGN sample in both redshift and stellar mass. We identify as X-ray-selected AGNs 8.7+4-3 per cent of the red-sequence control galaxies, 9.8 ± 3 per cent of the blue-cloud control galaxies and 14.7+4-3 per cent of the green-valley control galaxies. The nuclear colours of AGN hosts are generally bluer than their outer colours, while the control galaxies exhibit redder nuclei. AGNs in blue-cloud host galaxies experience less X-ray obscuration, while AGNs in red-sequence hosts have more, which is the reverse of what is expected from general considerations of the interstellar medium. Outer and integrated colours of AGN hosts generally agree with the control galaxies, regardless of X-ray obscuration, but the nuclear colours of unobscured AGNs are typically much bluer, especially for X-ray luminous objects. Visible point sources are seen in many of these, indicating that the nuclear colours have been contaminated by AGN light and that obscuration of the X-ray radiation and visible light are therefore highly correlated. Red AGN hosts are typically slightly bluer than red-sequence control galaxies, which suggests that their stellar populations are slightly younger. We compare these colour data to current models of AGN formation. The unexpected trend of less X-ray obscuration in blue-cloud galaxies and more in red-sequence galaxies is problematic for all AGN feedback models, in which gas and dust is thought to be removed as star formation shuts down. A second class of models involving radiative instabilities in hot gas is more promising for red-sequence AGNs but predicts a larger number of point sources in red-sequence AGNs than is observed. Regardless, it appears that multiple AGN models are necessary to explain the varied AGN host properties discussed in the current work. Finally, we find that integrated optical and UV - optical colours are not strongly affected by X-ray-selected AGNs except in rare cases (<10 per cent), where the AGN is very luminous, unobscured and/or visible as a point source.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-156
Number of pages18
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 2010


  • Galaxies: active
  • Galaxies: nuclei
  • Galaxies: photometry
  • X-rays: galaxies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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