The bulge-disc decomposition of AGN host galaxies

Victoria Bruce, J. S. Dunlop, A. Mortlock, D. D. Kocevski, E. J. McGrath, D. J. Rosario

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We present the results from a study of the morphologies of moderate luminosity X-ray-selected active galactic nuclei (AGN) host galaxies in comparison to a carefully mass-matched control sample at 0.5 <z < 3 in the CANDELS GOODS-S field. We apply a multiwavelength morphological decomposition analysis to these two samples and report on the differences between the morphologies as fitted from single Sérsic and multiple Sérsic models, and models which include an additional nuclear point-source component. Thus, we are able to compare the widely adopted single Sérsic fits from previous studies to the results from a full morphological decomposition, and address the issue of how biased the inferred properties of AGN hosts are by a potential nuclear contribution from the AGN itself. We find that the AGN hosts are indistinguishable from the general galaxy population except that beyond z ≃ 1.5 they have significantly higher bulge fractions. Even including nuclear sources in our modelling, the probability of this result arising by chance is ˜1 × 10-5, alleviating concerns that previous, purely single Sérsic, analyses of AGN hosts could have been spuriously biased towards higher bulge fractions. This data set also allows us to further probe the physical nature of these point-source components; we find no strong correlation between the point-source component and AGN activity. Our analysis of the bulge and disc fractions of these AGN hosts in comparison to a mass-matched control sample reveals a similar morphological evolutionary track for both the active and non-active populations, providing further evidence in favour of a model where AGN activity is triggered by secular processes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2391-2404
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2016


  • galaxies: active
  • galaxies: evolution
  • galaxies: structure
  • X-rays: galaxies


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