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Published February 10, 2008 | Published
Journal Article Open

Evidence for quasar activity triggered by galaxy mergers in HST observations of dust-reddened quasars


We present Hubble Space Telescope ACS images of 13 dust-reddened type 1 quasars selected from the FIRST/2MASS Red Quasar Survey. These quasars have high intrinsic luminosities after correction for dust obscuration (–23.5 ≥ M_B ≥ − 26.2 from K-magnitude). The images show strong evidence of recent or ongoing interaction in 11 of the 13 cases, even before the quasar nucleus is subtracted. None of the host galaxies are well fit by a simple elliptical profile. The fraction of quasars showing interaction is significantly higher than the 30% seen in samples of host galaxies of normal, unobscured quasars. There is a weak correlation between the amount of dust reddening and the magnitude of interaction in the host galaxy, measured using the Gini coefficient and the concentration index. Although few host galaxy studies of normal quasars are matched to ours in intrinsic quasar luminosity, no evidence has been found for a strong dependence of merger activity on host luminosity in samples of the host galaxies of normal quasars. We thus believe that the high merger fraction in our sample is related to their obscured nature, with a significant amount of reddening occurring in the host galaxy. The red quasar phenomenon seems to have an evolutionary explanation, with the young quasar spending the early part of its lifetime enshrouded in an interacting galaxy. This might be further indication of a link between AGNs and starburst galaxies.

Additional Information

© 2008 The American Astronomical Society. Received 2007 May 23; accepted 2007 September 15. We thank Elinor Gates for assistance with writing the fithost program. We also thank Wim de Vries for help with the ACS astrometry. This work was partly performed under the auspices of the US Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration by the University of California, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, under contract DE-AC52-07NA27344. Funding for this project was supplied by Hubble grant 10412. This publication makes use of data products from the Two Micron All-Sky Survey, which is a joint project of the University of Massachusetts and the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center/California Institute of Technology, funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation. This publication makes use of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. 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, and the Max Planck Society, and the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The SDSS Web site is http://www.sdss.org/.

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August 22, 2023
August 22, 2023