Mid-infrared luminous quasars in the GOODS-Herschel fields: A large population of heavily obscured, Compton-thick quasars at z ≈ 2

A. Del Moro, D. M. Alexander, F. E. Bauer, E. Daddi, D. D. Kocevski, D. H. McIntosh, F. Stanley, W. N. Brandt, D. Elbaz, C. M. Harrison, B. Luo, J. R. Mullaney, Y. Q. Xue

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66 Scopus citations


We present the infrared (IR) and X-ray properties of a sample of 33 mid-IR luminous quasars (νL6μm ≥ 6 × 1044 erg s-1) at redshift z ≈ 1-3, identified through detailed spectral energy distribution analyses of distant star-forming galaxies, using the deepest IR data from Spitzer and Herschel in the GOODS-Herschel fields. The aim is to constrain the fraction of obscured, and Compton-thick (CT, NH >1.5×1024 cm-2) quasars at the peak era of nuclear and star formation activities. Despite being very bright in the mid-IR band, ≈30 per cent of these quasars are not detected in the extremely deep 2 and 4Ms Chandra X-ray data available in these fields. X-ray spectral analysis of the detected sources reveals that the majority (≈67 per cent) are obscured by column densities NH >1022 cm-2; this fraction reaches≈80 per cent when including the X-ray-undetected sources (9 out of 33), which are likely to be the most heavily obscured, CT quasars. We constrain the fraction of CT quasars in our sample to be ≈24-48 per cent, and their space density to be Φ = (6.7 ± 2.2) × 10-6 Mpc-3. From the investigation of the quasar host galaxies in terms of star formation rates (SFRs) and morphological distortions, as a sign of galaxy mergers/interactions, we do not find any direct relation between SFRs and quasar luminosity or X-ray obscuration. On the other hand, there is tentative evidence that the most heavily obscured quasars have, on average, more disturbed morphologies than the unobscured/ moderately obscured quasar hosts, which preferentially live in undisturbed systems. However, the fraction of quasars with disturbed morphology amongst the whole sample is ≈40 per cent, suggesting that galaxy mergers are not the main fuelling mechanism of quasars at z ≈ 2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2105-2125
Number of pages21
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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