Tracing Star Formation Around Quasars With Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons

Bilton, Lawrence Edward (2016). Tracing Star Formation Around Quasars With Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons. MPhil thesis The Open University.



The feedback processes linking quasar activity to galaxy stellar mass growth are not well understood. If star formation is closely causally linked to black hole accretion, one may expect star formation confined to nuclear regions rather than extended over several kpc scales. Since Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) emission features are widely used as tracers of stellar formation, it is, therefore, possible to use PAH emission detected around QSOs to help resolve this question. PAH data from a sample of 63 QSOs procured from the Spitzer Space Telescope's Infrared Spectrograph (IRS) is used, employing the Spectroscopic Modelling Analysis and Reduction Tool's (SMART) Advanced Optimal (AdOpt) extraction routines. A composite spectrum was also produced to help determine the average conditions and compositions of star forming regions. It is found, from our high redshift (z > 1) sample of QSOs, there is a marginally significant extended star formation on average of 34 kpc scales. At low redshift, the median extension after deconvolving the instrumental point spread function is 3.2 kpc, potentially showing evolutionary variations in star formation activity. However, limitations of the spatial resolving power constrain the ability to make any absolute conclusive remarks. It is also found that the QSO/AGN composite has more neutral PAHs than the starbursting and the main sequence galaxies, consistent with the AGN having no contribution to heating the PAH emission, and also consistent with the average PAH emission found on kpc scales (i.e. not confined to the nuclear regions). A tentative detection of water vapour emission from the gravitationally lensed Einstein Cross quasar, QSO J2237+0305, is also presented suggesting a strong molecular outflow possibly driven by the active nucleus.

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