Ultraviolet spectropolarimetry of high-redshift quasars with the hubble space telescope

C. D. Impey, Matthew A. Malkan, Wayne Webb, C. E. Petry

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34 Scopus citations


Ultraviolet spectropolarimetry of three bright high-redshift low-polarization quasars (LPQs) was obtained with the Faint Object Spectrograph of the Hubble Space Telescope. Two of the quasars, PG 1634+706 and PG 2302+029, had polarizations p ∼ 0.5%-1.0% throughout the ultraviolet, and showed no significant variation of polarization amplitude or position angle with wavelength. PG 2302+029 was also marginally (2.4 σ) circularly polarized in the optical continuum. For the highest redshift quasar, PG 1222+228 (Ton 1530), the polarization was measured down to rest wavelengths below 800 Å. Although the continuum of PG 1222+228 was weakened by Lyman limit absorption from an intergalactic gas cloud, the polarization increased sharply from 1% to about 4.5%, a change of 4 σ significance. This abrupt rise in polarization does not appear attributable to any known instrumental artifact. These UV polarizations were only slightly less than those previously observed for these same objects in the optical. The polarization spectra were flat with a typical slope of the polarized flux pFv ∝ v-0.8±0.5. Unlike the case of several high luminosity Seyfert 1 nuclei studied previously, polarization caused by scattering from dust grains does not provide the best fit to the polarization spectra of these luminous quasars The hypotheses that the polarization in these quasars is produced by transmission through aligned interstellar grains (in the Milky Way or the host galaxy), or by a synchrotron power-law component, appear to be ruled out. These observed spectra are consistent with a wavelength-independent polarization proportional to the total non-stellar light or, possibly, to the contribution of the blue thermal component. The polarization spectra have insufficient signal-to-noise to locate the scatters with respect to the continuum source and the much larger broad line region. A decrease in amplitude and rotation of the position angle of the polarization vector at the shortest wavelengths, which could result from general relativistic effects near a spinning black hole, was not observed. In fact, in PG 1222+228, the polarization was observed to increase at the shortest wavelengths. The rise in polarization with frequency is so sharp that it cannot be due to any wavelength-independent polarizing mechanism at any radius in an accretion disk. Such a rise could be attributable, for example, to a relative increase in scattering opacity over absorption at higher frequencies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)80-90
Number of pages11
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 10 1995


  • Polarization
  • Quasars: general
  • Radiation mechanisms: nonthermal
  • Ultraviolet: galaxies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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