The X-ray View of Merger-Induced AGN Activity at Low Redshift
Abstract Galaxy mergers are predicted to trigger accretion onto the central supermassive black holes, with the highest rates occurring during final coalescence. Previously, we have shown elevated rates of both optical and mid-IR selected active galactic nuclei (AGN) in post-mergers, but to date the prevalence of X-ray AGN has not been examined in the same systematic way. We present XMM-Newton data of 43 post-merger galaxies selected from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey along with 430 non-interacting control galaxies matched in stellar mass, redshift, and environment in order to test for an excess of hard X-ray (2–10 keV) emission in post-mergers attributable to triggered AGN. We find 2 X-ray detections in the post-mergers ($4.7^{+9.3}_{-3.8}\%$) and 9 in the controls ($2.1^{+1.5}_{-1.0}\%$), an excess of $2.22^{+4.44}_{-2.22}$, where the confidence intervals are 90%. While we therefore do not find statistically significant evidence for an X-ray AGN excess in post-mergers (p = 0.26), we find a factor of ∼17 excess of mid-IR AGN in our sample, consistent with past work and inconsistent with the observed X-ray excess (p = 2.7 × 10−4). Dominant, luminous AGN are therefore more frequent in post-mergers, and the lack of a comparable excess of 2–10 keV X-ray AGN suggests that AGN in more »
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NSF-PAR ID:
10189621
Journal Name:
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
ISSN:
0035-8711
1. ABSTRACT The merger of two or more galaxies can enhance the inflow of material from galactic scales into the close environments of active galactic nuclei (AGNs), obscuring and feeding the supermassive black hole (SMBH). Both recent simulations and observations of AGN in mergers have confirmed that mergers are related to strong nuclear obscuration. However, it is still unclear how AGN obscuration evolves in the last phases of the merger process. We study a sample of 60 luminous and ultra-luminous IR galaxies (U/LIRGs) from the GOALS sample observed by NuSTAR. We find that the fraction of AGNs that are Compton thick (CT; $N_{\rm H}\ge 10^{24}\rm \, cm^{-2}$) peaks at $74_{-19}^{+14}{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$ at a late merger stage, prior to coalescence, when the nuclei have projected separations (dsep) of 0.4–6 kpc. A similar peak is also observed in the median NH [$(1.6\pm 0.5)\times 10^{24}\rm \, cm^{-2}$]. The vast majority ($85^{+7}_{-9}{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$) of the AGNs in the final merger stages (dsep ≲ 10 kpc) are heavily obscured ($N_{\rm H}\ge 10^{23}\rm \, cm^{-2}$), and the median NH of the accreting SMBHs in our sample is systematically higher than that of local hard X-ray-selected AGN, regardless of the merger stage. This implies that thesemore »