Red and reddened quasars in the sloan digital sky survey

Gordon T. Richards, Patrick B. Hall, Daniel E. Vanden Berk, Michael A. Strauss, Donald P. Schneider, Michael A. Weinstein, Timothy A. Reichard, Donald G. York, G. R. Knapp, Xiaohui Fan, Željko Ivezić, J. Brinkmann, Tamás Budavári, István Csabai, R. C. Nichol

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330 Scopus citations


We investigate the overall continuum and emission-line properties of quasars as a function of their optical/UV spectral energy distributions. Our sample consists of 4576 quasars from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) that were chosen using homogeneous selection criteria. Expanding on our previous work, which demonstrated that the optical/UV color distribution of quasars is roughly Gaussian but with a red tail, here we distinguish between (1) quasars that have intrinsically blue (optically flat) power-law continua, (2) quasars that have intrinsically red (optically steep) power-law continua, and (3) quasars whose colors are inconsistent with a single power-law continuum. We find that 273 (6.0%) of the quasars in our sample fall into the latter category and appear to be redder because of SMC-like dust extinction and reddening rather than because of synchrotron emission. Even though the SDSS quasar survey is optically selected and flux-limited, we demonstrate that it is sensitive to dust reddened quasars with E(B- V) ≲ 0.5, assuming a classical SMC extinction curve. The color distribution of our SDSS quasar sample suggests that the population of moderately dust reddened, but otherwise normal (i.e., type 1) quasars is smaller than the population of unobscured quasars: we estimate that a further 10% of the quasar population with Mi < -25.61 is missing from the SDSS sample because of extinction, bringing the total fraction of dust-reddened quasars to 15% of broad-line quasars. We also investigate the emission- and absorption-line properties of these quasars as a function of color and comment on how some of these results relate to Boroson-Green-type eigenvectors. Quasars with intrinsically red (optically steep) power-law continua tend to have narrower Balmer lines and weaker C IV, C III], He II, and 3000 A bump emission as compared with bluer (optically flatter) quasars. The change in strength of the 3000 Åbump appears to be dominated by the Balmer continuum and not by Fe II emission. The dust-reddened quasars have even narrower Balmer lines and weaker 3000 Å bumps, in addition to having considerably larger equivalent widths of [O II] and [O III] emission. The fraction of broad absorption line quasars (BALQSOs) increases from ∼3.4% for the bluest quasars to perhaps as large as 20% for the dust-reddened quasars, but the intrinsic color distribution will be much bluer if all BALQSOs are affected by dust reddening.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1131-1147
Number of pages17
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number3 1773
StatePublished - Sep 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Quasars: absorption lines
  • Quasars: emission lines
  • Quasars: general


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