The growth of black holes: Insights from obscured active galaxies

Jenny E. Greene, Nadia L. Zakamska, Xin Liu, Aaron J. Barth, Luis C. Ho

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44 Scopus citations


Obscured or narrow-line active galaxies offer an unobstructed view of the quasar environment in the presence of a luminous and vigorously accreting black hole (BH). We exploit the large new sample of optically selected luminous narrow-line active galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey at redshifts 0.1 < z < 0.45, in conjunction with follow-up observations with the Low Dispersion Survey Spectrograph (LDSS3) at Magellan, to study the distributions of BH mass and host galaxy properties in these extreme objects. We find a narrow range in BH mass (〈log M BH/M ȯ〉 = 8.0 0.7) and Eddington ratio (〈log L bol/L Edd〉 = -0.7 0.7) for the sample as a whole, surprisingly similar to comparable broad-line systems. In contrast, we infer a wide range in star formation properties and host morphologies for the sample, from disk-dominated to elliptical galaxies. Nearly one-quarter have highly disturbed morphologies indicative of ongoing mergers. Unlike the BHs, which are apparently experiencing significant growth, the galaxies appear to have formed the bulk of their stars at a previous epoch. On the other hand, it is clear from the lack of correlation between gaseous and stellar velocity dispersions in these systems that the host galaxy interstellar medium is far from being in virial equilibrium with the stars. While our findings cast strong doubt on the reliability of substituting gas for stellar dispersions in high luminosity active galaxies, they do provide direct evidence that luminous accreting BHs influence their surroundings on a galaxy-wide scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)441-459
Number of pages19
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Galaxies: Seyfert
  • Galaxies: active
  • Galaxies: nuclei


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