Journal Article

Why are AGN found in high-mass galaxies?

Lan Wang and Guinevere Kauffmann

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 391, issue 2, pages 785-792
Published in print December 2008 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online November 2008 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
Why are AGN found in high-mass galaxies?

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There is a strong observed mass dependence of the fraction of nearby galaxies that contain either low-luminosity [low-ionization nuclear emission-line region (LINER) type] or higher luminosity (Seyfert or composite type) active galactic nuclei (AGN). This implies that either only a small fraction of low-mass galaxies contain black holes, or that the black holes in these systems only accrete rarely or at very low rates, and hence are generally not detectable as AGN. In this paper, we use semi-analytic models implemented in the Millennium Simulation to analyse the mass dependence of the merging histories of dark matter haloes and of the galaxies that reside in them. Only a few per cent of galaxies with stellar masses less than M* < 1010M are predicted to have experienced a major merger. The fraction of galaxies that have experienced major mergers increases steeply at larger stellar masses. We argue that if a major merger is required to form the initial seed black hole, the mass dependence of AGN activity in local galaxies can be understood quite naturally. We then investigate when the major mergers that first create these black holes are predicted to occur. High-mass galaxies are predicted to have formed their first black holes at very early epochs. The majority of low-mass galaxies never experience a major merger and hence may not contain a black hole, but a significant fraction of the supermassive black holes that do exist in low-mass galaxies are predicted to have formed recently.

Keywords: galaxies: haloes; galaxies: interactions; galaxies: nuclei

Journal Article.  5895 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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