Luminosity-dependent quasar lifetimes: Reconciling the optical and X-ray quasar luminosity functions

Philip F. Hopkins, Lars Hernquist, Thomas J. Cox, Tiziana D.I. Matteo, Brant Robertson, Volker Springel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


We consider implications of our new model of quasar lifetimes and light curves for the quasar luminosity function (LF) at different frequencies and redshifts. In our picture, quasars evolve rapidly and the lifetime depends on both their instantaneous and peak luminosities. The bright end of the LF traces the peak intrinsic quasar activity, but the faint end consists of quasars that are either undergoing exponential growth to much larger masses and luminosities or are in sub-Eddington quiescent states going into or coming out of a period of peak activity. The "break" in the observed LF corresponds directly to the maximum in the intrinsic distribution of peak luminosities, which falls off at both brighter and fainter luminosities. We study this model using simulations of galaxy mergers that successfully reproduce a wide range of observed quasar phenomena, including the observed column density distribution. By combining quasar lifetimes and the distribution of maximum quasar luminosities determined from the observed hard X-ray LF with the corresponding luminosity and host system-dependent column densities, we produce the expected soft X-ray and B-band LFs. Our predictions agree exceptionally well with the observed LFs at all observed luminosities over the redshift range considered (z ≤ 1) without invoking any ad hoc assumptions about an obscured population of sources. Our results also suggest that observed correlations in hard X-ray samples between the obscured fraction of quasars and luminosity can be explained in the context of our model by the expulsion of surrounding gas due to heating from accretion feedback energy as a quasar nears its peak luminosity and final black hole mass.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)81-91
Number of pages11
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 I
StatePublished - Oct 10 2005


  • Cosmology: theory
  • Galaxies: active
  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: nuclei quasars: general

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Luminosity-dependent quasar lifetimes: Reconciling the optical and X-ray quasar luminosity functions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this