The most luminous H α emitters at z ˜ 0.8-2.23 from HiZELS: evolution of AGN and star-forming galaxies

David Sobral, Saul A. Kohn, Philip N. Best, Ian Smail, Chris M. Harrison, John Stott, João Calhau, Jorryt Matthee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We use new near-infrared spectroscopic observations to investigate the nature and evolution of the most luminous Hα emitters at z ˜ 0.8-2.23, which evolve strongly in number density over this period, and compare them to more typical Hα emitters. We study 59 luminous Hα emitters with LHα > L_{Hα }^{ast }, roughly equally split per redshift slice at z ˜ 0.8, 1.47 and 2.23 from the HiZELS and CF-HiZELS surveys. We find that, overall, 30 ± 8 per cent are active galactic nuclei [AGNs; 80 ± 30 per cent of these AGNs are broad-line AGNs, BL-AGNs], and we find little to no evolution in the AGN fraction with redshift, within the errors. However, the AGN fraction increases strongly with Hα luminosity and correlates best with LHα/L_{Hα }^{ast }(z). While LHα ≤ L_{Hα }^{ast }(z) Hα emitters are largely dominated by star-forming galaxies (>80 per cent), the most luminous Hα emitters (L_{Hα }>10L_{Hα }^{ast }(z)) at any cosmic time are essentially all BL-AGN. Using our AGN-decontaminated sample of luminous star-forming galaxies, and integrating down to a fixed Hα luminosity, we find a factor of ˜1300 evolution in the star formation rate density from z = 0 to 2.23. This is much stronger than the evolution from typical Hα star-forming galaxies and in line with the evolution seen for constant luminosity cuts used to select `ultraluminous' infrared galaxies and/or sub-millimetre galaxies. By taking into account the evolution in the typical Hα luminosity, we show that the most strongly star-forming Hα-selected galaxies at any epoch (L_{Hα }>L^{ast }_{Hα }(z)) contribute the same fractional amount of ≈15 per cent to the total star formation rate density, at least up to z = 2.23.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1739-1752
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 4 Feb 2016


  • galaxies: evolution
  • galaxies: high-redshift
  • cosmology: observations

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