Journal Article

Alternative diagnostic diagrams and the ‘forgotten’ population of weak line galaxies in the SDSS

R. Cid Fernandes, G. Stasińska, M. S. Schlickmann, A. Mateus, N. Vale Asari, W. Schoenell and L. Sodré

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 403, issue 2, pages 1036-1053
Published in print April 2010 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online March 2010 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
Alternative diagnostic diagrams and the ‘forgotten’ population of weak line galaxies in the SDSS

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A numerous population of weak line galaxies (WLGs) is often left out of statistical studies on emission-line galaxies (ELGs) due to the absence of an adequate classification scheme, since classical diagnostic diagrams, such as [O iii]/Hβ versus [N ii]/Hα (the BPT diagram), require the measurement of at least four emission lines. This paper aims to remedy this situation by transposing the usual divisory lines between star-forming (SF) galaxies and active galactic nuclei (AGN) hosts and between Seyferts and LINERs to diagrams that are more economical in terms of line quality requirements. By doing this, we rescue from the classification limbo a substantial number of sources and modify the global census of ELGs. More specifically, (1) we use the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Data Release 7 to constitute a suitable sample of 280 000 ELGs, one-third of which are WLGs. (2) Galaxies with strong emission lines are classified using the widely applied criteria of Kewley et al., Kauffmann et al. and Stasińska et al. to distinguish SF galaxies and AGN hosts and Kewley et al. to distinguish Seyferts from LINERs. (3) We transpose these classification schemes to alternative diagrams keeping [N ii]/Hα as a horizontal axis, but replacing Hβ by a stronger line (Hα or [O ii]), or substituting the ionization-level sensitive [O iii]/Hβ ratio with the equivalent width of Hα(W). Optimized equations for the transposed divisory lines are provided. (4) We show that nothing significant is lost in the translation, but that the new diagrams allow one to classify up to 50 per cent more ELGs. (5) Introducing WLGs in the census of galaxies in the local Universe increases the proportion of metal-rich SF galaxies and especially LINERs.

In the course of this analysis, we were led to make the following points. (i) The Kewley et al. BPT line for galaxy classification is generally ill-used. (ii) Replacing [O iii]/Hβ by W in the classification introduces a change in the philosophy of the distinction between LINERs and Seyferts, but not in its results. Because the W versus [N ii]/Hα diagram can be applied to the largest sample of ELGs without loss of discriminating power between Seyferts and LINERs, we recommend its use in further studies. (iii) The dichotomy between Seyferts and LINERs is washed out by WLGs in the BPT plane, but it subsists in other diagnostic diagrams. This suggests that the right wing in the BPT diagram is indeed populated by at least two classes, tentatively identified with bona fide AGN and ‘retired’ galaxies that have stopped forming stars and are ionized by their old stellar populations.

Keywords: galaxies: active; galaxies: statistics

Journal Article.  13625 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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