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Published March 2013 | Published
Journal Article Open

Characterizing the Mid-infrared Extragalactic Sky with WISE and SDSS


The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has completed its all-sky survey in four channels at 3.4-22 μm, detecting hundreds of millions of objects. We merge the WISE mid-infrared data with optical data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) and provide a phenomenological characterization of WISE extragalactic sources. WISE is most sensitive at 3.4 μm (W1) and least sensitive at 22 μm (W4). The W1 band probes massive early-type galaxies out to z ≳ 1. This is more distant than SDSS identified early-type galaxies, consistent with the fact that 28% of 3.4 μm sources have faint or no r-band counterparts (r > 22.2). In contrast, 92%-95% of 12 μm and 22 μm sources have SDSS optical counterparts with r ≤ 22.2. WISE 3.4 μm detects 89.8% of the entire SDSS QSO catalog at S/N_(W1) >7σ, but only 18.9% at 22 μm with S/N_(W4) > 5σ. We show that WISE colors alone are effective in isolating stars (or local early-type galaxies), star-forming galaxies, and strong active galactic nuclei (AGNs)/QSOs at z ≾ 3. We highlight three major applications of WISE colors: (1) Selection of strong AGNs/QSOs at z ≤ 3 using W1 – W2 > 0.8 and W2 < 15.2 criteria, producing a better census of this population. The surface density of these strong AGN/QSO candidates is 67.5 ± 0.14 deg^(–2). (2) Selection of dust-obscured, type-2 AGN/QSO candidates. We show that WISE W1 – W2 > 0.8, W2 < 15.2 combined with r – W2 > 6 (Vega) colors can be used to identify type-2 AGN candidates. The fraction of these type-2 AGN candidates is one-third of all WISE color-selected AGNs. (3) Selection of ultraluminous infrared galaxies (ULIRGs) at z ~ 2 with extremely red colors, r – W4 > 14 or well-detected 22 μm sources lacking detections in the 3.4 and 4.6 μm bands. The surface density of z ~ 2 ULIRG candidates selected with r – W4 > 14 is 0.9 ± 0.07 deg^(–2) at S/N_(W4) ≥ 5 (the corresponding, lowest flux density of 2.5 mJy), which is consistent with that inferred from smaller area Spitzer surveys. Optical spectroscopy of a small number of these high-redshift ULIRG candidates confirms our selection, and reveals a possible trend that optically fainter or r – W4 redder candidates are at higher redshifts.

Additional Information

© 2013 American Astronomical Society. Received 2012 September 7; accepted 2012 December 10; published 2013 January 18. This publication makes use of data products from the Widefield Infrared Survey Explorer, which is a joint project of the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory/California Institute of Technology, funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. This paper also utilized the publicly available SDSS data sets. Funding for the SDSS and SDSS-II has been provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Participating Institutions, the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Japanese Monbukagakusho, the Max Planck Society, and the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The SDSS Web site is http://www.sdss.org/. The SDSS is managed by the Astrophysical Research Consortium for the Participating Institutions. The Participating Institutions are the American Museum of Natural History, Astrophysical Institute Potsdam, University of Basel, University of Cambridge, Case Western Reserve University, University of Chicago, Drexel University, Fermilab, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Japan Participation Group, Johns Hopkins University, the Joint Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics, the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, the Korean Scientist Group, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (LAMOST), Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Max-Planck- Institute for Astronomy (MPIA), the Max-Planck-Institute for Astrophysics (MPA), New Mexico State University, Ohio State University, University of Pittsburgh, University of Portsmouth, Princeton University, the United States Naval Observatory, and the University of Washington. Some of the data presented herein were obtained at the W. M. Keck Observatory, which is operated as a scientific partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Observatory was made possible by the generous financial support of the W. M. Keck Foundation. The authors recognize and acknowledge the very significant cultural role and reverence that the summit of Mauna Kea has always had within the indigenous Hawaiian community. We are most fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct observations from this mountain.

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