DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stad3964 ISSN: 0035-8711

A population of optically quiescent quasars from WISE and SDSS

Claire Greenwell, Poshak Gandhi, Daniel Stern, George Lansbury, Vincenzo Mainieri, Peter Boorman, Yoshiki Toba
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics


The growth of active galactic nuclei (AGN) occurs under some form of obscuration in a large fraction of the population. The difficulty in constraining this population leads to high uncertainties in cosmic X-ray background and galaxy evolution models. Using an SDSS-WISE cross-match, we target infrared luminous AGN (W1 − W2 > 0.8, and monochromatic rest-frame luminosity above λLλ(12 μm) ≈ 3 × 1044 erg s−1), but with passive galaxy-like optical spectra (Optically Quiescent Quasars; OQQs). We find 47 objects that show no significant [O iii]λ5007 emission, a typically strong AGN optical emission line. As a comparison sample, we examine SDSS-selected Type 2 quasars (QSO2s), which show a significant [O iii]λ5007 line by definition. We find a 1:16 ratio of OQQs compared to QSO2s, suggesting that the OQQ duty cycle is likely much shorter than that of QSO2s (though selection biases are not fully quantified). We consider observed properties in comparison with other galaxy types, and examine them for consistency with theories on their intrinsic nature: chiefly (a) a high covering factor for surrounding obscuring matter, preventing the detection of high-ionisation emission lines – ‘cocooned AGN’; or (b) ionised gas being absent on the kpc scales of the Narrow Line Region (NLR), perhaps due to a ‘switching on’ or ‘young’ AGN. OQQs do not obviously fit the standard paradigm for merger-driven AGN and host galaxy evolution, implying we may be missing part of the flow of AGN evolution.

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