The small-scale environment of quasars

Will Serber, Neta Bahcall, Brice Ménard, Gordon Richards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


Where do quasars reside? Are quasars located in environments similar to those of typical L* galaxies, and, if not, how do they differ? An answer to this question will help shed light on the triggering process of quasar activity. We use the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to study the environment of quasars and compare it directly with the environment of galaxies. We find that quasars (Mi, ≤ -22, z ≤ 0.4) are located in higher local overdensity regions than are typical L* galaxies. The enhanced environment around quasars is a local phenomenon; the overdensity relative to that around L* galaxies is strongest within 100 kpc of the quasars. In this region, the overdensity is a factor of 1.4 larger than around L* galaxies. The overdensity declines monotonically with scale to nearly unity at ∼1 h70-1 Mpc, where quasars inhabit environments comparable to those of L* galaxies. The small-scale density enhancement depends on quasar luminosity, but only at the brightest end: the most luminous quasars reside in higher local overdensity regions than do fainter quasars. The mean overdensity around the brightest quasars (Mi ≤ -23.3) is nearly 3 times larger than around L* galaxies, while the density around dimmer quasars (Mi = -22.0 to -23.3) is ∼1.4 times that of L* galaxies. By ∼0.5 Mpc, the dependence on quasar luminosity is no longer significant. The overdensity on all scales is independent of redshift to z ≤ 0.4. The results suggest a picture in which quasars typically reside in L* galaxies but have a local excess of neighbors within ∼0.1-0.5 Mpc; this local density excess likely contributes to the triggering of quasar activity through mergers and other interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)68-74
Number of pages7
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 I
StatePublished - May 20 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Galaxies: statistics
  • Quasars: general


Dive into the research topics of 'The small-scale environment of quasars'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this