Hubble Space Telescope images of a sample of 20 nearby luminous quasars

John N. Bahcall, Sofia Kirhakos, David H. Saxe, Donald P. Schneider

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Observations with the Wide-Field Camera of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) are presented for a representative sample of 20 intrinsically luminous quasars with redshifts smaller than 0.30. These observations show that luminous quasars occur in diverse environments that include ellipticals as bright as the brightest cluster galaxies (two), apparently normal ellipticals (10), apparently normal spirals with H II regions (three), complex systems of gravitationally interacting components (three), and faint surrounding nebulosity (two). The quasar host galaxies are centered on the quasar to the accuracy of our measurements, 400 pc. There are more radio-quiet quasars in galaxies that appear to be ellipticals (seven) than in spiral hosts (three), contrary to expectations. However, three, and possibly five, of the six radio-loud quasars have detectable elliptical hosts, in agreement with expectations. The luminous quasars studied in this paper occur preferentially in luminous galaxies. The average absolute magnitude of the hosts is 2.2 mag brighter than expected for a field galaxy luminosity function. The superb optical characteristics of the repaired HST make possible the detection of close galactic companions; we detect eight companion galaxies within projected distances of 10 kpc from quasar nuclei. The presence of very close companions, the images of current gravitational interactions, and the higher density of galaxies around the quasars suggest that gravitational interactions play an important role in triggering the quasar phenomenon.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)642-658
Number of pages17
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 PART I
StatePublished - 1997

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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