Journal Article

Finding rare objects and building pure samples: probabilistic quasar classification from low-resolution Gaia spectra

C. A. L. Bailer-Jones, K. W. Smith, C. Tiede, R. Sordo and A. Vallenari

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 391, issue 4, pages 1838-1853
Published in print December 2008 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online December 2008 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
Finding rare objects and building pure samples: probabilistic quasar classification from low-resolution Gaia spectra

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We develop and demonstrate a probabilistic method for classifying rare objects in surveys with the particular goal of building very pure samples. It works by modifying the output probabilities from a classifier so as to accommodate our expectation (priors) concerning the relative frequencies of different classes of objects. We demonstrate our method using the Discrete Source Classifier (DSC), a supervised classifier currently based on support vector machines, which we are developing in preparation for the Gaia data analysis. DSC classifies objects using their very low resolution optical spectra. We look in detail at the problem of quasar classification, because identification of a pure quasar sample is necessary to define the Gaia astrometric reference frame. By varying a posterior probability threshold in DSC, we can trade off sample completeness and contamination. We show, using our simulated data, that it is possible to achieve a pure sample of quasars (upper limit on contamination of 1 in 40 000) with a completeness of 65 per cent at magnitudes of G= 18.5, and 50 per cent at G= 20.0, even when quasars have a frequency of only 1 in every 2000 objects. The star sample completeness is simultaneously 99 per cent with a contamination of 0.7 per cent. Including parallax and proper motion in the classifier barely changes the results. We further show that not accounting for class priors in the target population leads to serious misclassifications and poor predictions for sample completeness and contamination. We discuss how a classification model prior may, or may not, be influenced by the class distribution in the training data. Our method controls this prior and so allows a single model to be applied to any target population without having to tune the training data and retrain the model.

Keywords: methods: data analysis; methods: statistical; surveys; quasars: general

Journal Article.  11208 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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