Edinburgh Research Explorer

Constraining the contribution of active galactic nuclei to reionization

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Sultan Hassan
  • Romeel Davé
  • Sourav Mitra
  • Kristian Finlator
  • Benedetta Ciardi
  • Mario G. Santos

Related Edinburgh Organisations

Open Access permissions


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)227-240
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2017


Recent results have suggested that active galactic nuclei (AGN) could provide enough photons to reionize the Universe. We assess the viability of this scenario using a semi-numerical framework for modelling reionization, to which we add a quasar contribution by constructing a Quasar Halo Occupancy Distribution (QHOD) based on Giallongo et al. observations. Assuming a constant QHOD, we find that an AGN-only model cannot simultaneously match observations of the optical depth τe, neutral fraction and ionizing emissivity. Such a model predicts τe too low by ∼2σ relative to Planck constraints, and reionizes the Universe at z ≲ 5. Arbitrarily increasing the AGN emissivity to match these results yields a strong mismatch with the observed ionizing emissivity at z ∼ 5. If we instead assume a redshift-independent AGN luminosity function yielding an emissivity evolution like that assumed in Madau & Haardt model, then we can match τe albeit with late reionization; however, such evolution is inconsistent with observations at z ∼ 4-6 and poorly motivated physically. These results arise because AGN are more biased towards massive haloes than typical reionizing galaxies, resulting in stronger clustering and later formation times. AGN-dominated models produce larger ionizing bubbles that are reflected in ∼×2 more 21 cm power on all scales. A model with equal part galaxies and AGN contribution is still (barely) consistent with observations, but could be distinguished using next-generation 21 cm experiments such as Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array and SKA-low. We conclude that, even with recent claims of more faint AGN than previously thought, AGN are highly unlikely to dominate the ionizing photon budget for reionization.

    Research areas

  • galaxies: active, galaxies: high-redshift, intergalactic medium, quasars: general, quasars: supermassive black holes, dark ages, reionization, first stars

Download statistics

No data available

ID: 57683167