Spatially Offset Active Galactic Nuclei. II. Triggering in Galaxy Mergers

R. Scott Barrows, Julia M. Comerford, Jenny E. Greene, David Pooley

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21 Scopus citations


Galaxy mergers are likely to play a role in triggering active galactic nuclei (AGNs), but the conditions under which this process occurs are poorly understood. In Paper I, we constructed a sample of spatially offset X-ray AGNs that represent galaxy mergers hosting a single AGN. In this paper, we use our offset AGN sample to constrain the parameters that affect AGN observability in galaxy mergers. We also construct dual-AGN samples with similar selection properties for comparison. We find that the offset AGN fraction shows no evidence for a dependence on AGN luminosity, while the dual-AGN fractions show stronger evidence for a positive dependence, suggesting that the merger events forming dual AGNs are more efficient at instigating accretion onto supermassive black holes than those forming offset AGNs. We also find that the offset and dual-AGN fractions both have a negative dependence on nuclear separation and are similar in value at small physical scales. This dependence may become stronger when restricted to high AGN luminosities, although a larger sample is needed for confirmation. These results indicate that the probability of AGN triggering increases at later merger stages. This study is the first to systematically probe down to nuclear separations of <1 kpc (∼0.8 kpc) and is consistent with predictions from simulations that AGN observability peaks in this regime. We also find that the offset AGNs are not preferentially obscured compared to the parent AGN sample, suggesting that our selection may be targeting galaxy mergers with relatively dust-free nuclear regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number129
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • X-rays: galaxies
  • galaxies: Seyfert
  • galaxies: active
  • galaxies: evolution
  • galaxies: interactions
  • galaxies: nuclei


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