Optical spectropolarimetry of quasi-stellar objects discovered by the two-micron all sky survey

Paul S. Smith, Gary D. Schmidt, Dean C. Hines, Craig B. Foltz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Highly polarized QSOs discovered in the Two-Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS) have been observed to determine the source(s) of optical polarization in this near-infrared color-selected sample. Broad emission lines are observed in the polarized flux spectra of most objects, and the polarization of the lines is at about the same level and position angle as the continuum. Generally, the continuum is bluer and the broad-line Balmer decrement is smaller in polarized light than for the spectrum of total flux. Narrow emission lines are much less polarized than the broad lines and continuum for all polarized objects. These properties favor scattering by material close to a partially obscured and reddened active nucleus, but exterior to the regions producing the broad-line emission, as the source of polarized flux in 2MASS QSOs. The largely unpolarized narrow-line features require that the electrons or dust polarizing the light be located at distances from the nucleus not much greater than the extent of the narrow emission line region. The conclusion that the scattering material is located close to the nucleus is reinforced by the observation in four objects of changes in both the degree and position angle of polarization across the broad Hα emission-line profile, indicating that the broad emission line region (BLR) is at least partially resolved from distance of the scatterers. In addition to known high-polarization objects, four 2MASS QSOs with active galactic nucleus (AGN) spectral types of 1.9 and 2 were observed to search for hidden BLRs. Broad lines were detected in polarized light for two of these objects, and the polarizing mechanism appears to be the same for these objects as for the highly polarized QSOs in the sample that readily show broad emission lines in their spectra. The small observed sample of eight type 1 2MASS QSOs has weak [O III] emission in comparison to optically selected AGNs with similar near-infrared luminosity. The observations also show that starlight from the host galaxy contributes a significant amount of optical flux, especially for the narrow-line objects, and support the suggestion that many 2MASS QSOs are measured to have low polarization simply because of dilution of the polarized AGN light by the host galaxy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)676-699
Number of pages24
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 I
StatePublished - Aug 20 2003


  • Galaxies: active
  • Polarization
  • Quasars: general

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Optical spectropolarimetry of quasi-stellar objects discovered by the two-micron all sky survey'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this