Disentangling AGN and star formation activity at high redshift using hubble space telescope grism spectroscopy

Joanna S. Bridge, Gregory R. Zeimann, Jonathan R. Trump, Caryl Gronwall, Robin Ciardullo, Derek Fox, Donald P. Schneider

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Differentiating between active galactic nucleus (AGN) activity and star formation in z ∼ 2 galaxies is difficult because traditional methods, such as line-ratio diagnostics, change with redshift, while multi-wavelength methods (X-ray, radio, IR) are sensitive to only the brightest AGNs. We have developed a new method for spatially resolving emission lines using the Hubble Space Telescope/Wide Field Camera 3 G141 grism spectra and quantifying AGN activity through the spatial gradient of the [O iii]/Hβ line ratio. Through detailed simulations, we show that our novel line-ratio gradient approach identifies ∼40% more low-mass and obscured AGNs than obtained by classical methods. Based on our simulations, we developed a relationship that maps the stellar mass, star formation rate, and measured [O iii]/Hβ gradient to the AGN Eddington ratio. We apply our technique to previously studied stacked samples of galaxies at z ∼ 2 and find that our results are consistent with these studies. This gradient method will also be able to inform other areas of galaxy evolution science, such as inside-out quenching and metallicity gradients, and will be widely applicable to future spatially resolved James Webb Space Telescope data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number172
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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