The ages of quasar host galaxies

L A Nolan, J S Dunlop, M J Kukula, D H Hughes, T Boroson, R Jimenez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

We present the results of fitting deep off-nuclear optical spectra of radio-quiet quasars, radio-loud quasars and radio galaxies at z similar or equal to 0.2 with evolutionary synthesis models of galaxy evolution. Our aim was to determine the age of the dynamically dominant stellar populations in the host galaxies of these three classes of powerful active galactic nuclei (AGN). Some of our spectra display residual nuclear contamination at the shortest wavelengths, but the detailed quality of the fits longward of the 4000-Angstrom break provides unequivocal proof, if further proof were needed, that quasars lie in massive galaxies with (at least at z similar or equal to 0.2) evolved stellar populations. By fitting a two-component model we have separated the very blue (starburst and/or AGN contamination) from the redder underlying spectral energy distribution, and find that the hosts of all three classes of AGN are dominated by old stars of age 8-14 Gyr. If the blue component is attributed to young stars, we find that, at most, 1 per cent of the visible baryonic mass of these galaxies is involved in star formation activity at the epoch of observation, at least over the region sampled by our spectroscopic observations. These results strongly support the conclusion reached by McLure et al. that the host galaxies of luminous quasars are massive ellipticals which have formed by the epoch of peak quasar activity at z similar or equal to 2.5.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)308-330
Number of pages23
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2001


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