Steps toward unveiling the true population of active galactic nuclei: Photometric characterization of active galactic nuclei in cosmos

Evan E. Schneider, Christopher D. Impey, Jonathan R. Trump, Mara Salvato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Using a physically motivated, model-based active galactic nucleus (AGN) characterization technique, we fit a large sample of X-ray-selected AGNs with known spectroscopic redshifts from the Cosmic Evolution Survey field. We identify accretion disks in the spectral energy distributions of broad- and narrow-line AGNs, and infer the presence or absence of host galaxy light in the SEDs. Based on infrared and UV excess AGN selection techniques, our method involves fitting a given SED with a model consisting of three components: infrared power-law emission, optical-UV accretion disk emission, and host galaxy emission. Each component can be varied in relative contribution, and a reduced chi-square minimization routine is used to determine the optimum parameters for each object. Using this technique, both broad- and narrow-line AGNs fall within well-defined and plausible bounds on the physical parameters of the model, allowing trends with luminosity and redshift to be determined. In particular, based on our sample of spectroscopically confirmed AGNs, we find that approximately 95% of the broad-line AGNs and 50% of the narrow-line AGNs in our sample show evidence of an accretion disk, with maximum disk temperatures ranging from 1 to 10 eV. Because this fitting technique relies only on photometry, we hope to apply it in future work to the characterization and eventually the selection of fainter AGNs than are accessible in wide-field spectroscopic surveys, and thus probe a population of less luminous and/or higher redshift objects without prior redshift or X-ray data. With the abundant availability of photometric data from large surveys, the ultimate goal is to use this technique to create large samples that will complement and complete AGN catalogs selected by X-ray emission alone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number123
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2013


  • galaxies: active
  • infrared: galaxies
  • methods: data analysis
  • quasars: general
  • surveys

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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