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    Of the hundreds of z ≳ 6 quasars discovered to date, only one is known to be gravitationally lensed, despite the high lensing optical depth expected at z ≳ 6. High-redshift quasars are typically identified in large-scale surveys by applying strict photometric selection criteria, in particular by imposing non-detections in bands blueward of the Lyman-α line. Such procedures by design prohibit the discovery of lensed quasars, as the lensing foreground galaxy would contaminate the photometry of the quasar. We present a novel quasar selection methodology, applying contrastive learning (an unsupervised machine learning technique) to Dark Energy Survey imaging data. We describe the use of this technique to train a neural network which isolates an ‘island’ of 11 sources, of which seven are known z ∼ 6 quasars. Of the remaining four, three are newly discovered quasars (J0109−5424, z = 6.07; J0122−4609, z = 5.99; J0603−3923, z = 5.94), as confirmed by follow-up and archival spectroscopy, implying a 91 per cent efficiency for our novel selection method; the final object on the island is a brown dwarf. In one case (J0109−5424), emission below the Lyman limit unambiguously indicates the presence of a foreground source, though high-resolution optical/near-infrared imaging is still needed to confirm the quasar’s lensed (multiply imaged) nature. Detection in the g band has led this quasar to escape selection by traditional colour cuts. Our findings demonstrate that machine learning techniques can thus play a key role in unveiling populations of quasars missed by traditional methods.

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  2. Abstract

    Protoclusters, the progenitors of galaxy clusters, trace large scale structures in the early Universe and are important to our understanding of structure formation and galaxy evolution. To date, only a handful of protoclusters have been identified in the Epoch of Reionization. As one of the rarest populations in the early Universe, distant quasars that host active supermassive black holes are thought to reside in the most massive dark matter halos at that cosmic epoch and could thus potentially pinpoint some of the earliest protoclusters. In this Letter, we report the discovery of a massive protocluster around a luminous quasar atz= 6.63. This protocluster is anchored by the quasar and includes three [Cii] emitters atz∼ 6.63, 12 spectroscopically confirmed Lyαemitters (LAEs) at 6.54 <z≤ 6.64, and a large number of narrow-band-imaging selected LAE candidates at the same redshift. This structure has an overall overdensity ofδ=3.30.9+1.1within ∼35 × 74 cMpc2on the sky and an extreme overdensity ofδ> 30 in its central region (i.e.,R≲ 2 cMpc). We estimate that this protocluster will collapse into a galaxy cluster with a mass of6.91.4+1.2×1015Mat the current epoch, more massive than the most massive clusters known in the local Universe such as Coma. In the quasar vicinity, we discover a double-peaked LAE, which implies that the quasar has a UV lifetime greater than 0.8 Myrs and has already ionized its surrounding intergalactic medium.

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  3. Characterizing the physical conditions (density, temperature, ionization state, metallicity, etc) of the interstellar medium is critical to improving our understanding of the formation and evolution of galaxies. In this work, we present a multi-line study of the interstellar medium in the host galaxy of a quasar atz ≈ 6.4, that is, when the universe was 840 Myr old. This galaxy is one of the most active and massive objects emerging from the dark ages and therefore represents a benchmark for models of the early formation of massive galaxies. We used the Atacama Large Millimeter Array to target an ensemble of tracers of ionized, neutral, and molecular gas, namely the following fine-structure lines: [O III] 88 μm, [N II] 122 μm, [C II] 158 μm, and [C I] 370 μm – as well as the rotational transitions of CO(7–6), CO(15–14), CO(16–15), and CO(19–18); OH 163.1 μm and 163.4 μm; along with H2O 3(0,3)–2(1,2), 3(3,1)–4(0,4), 3(3,1)–3(2,2), 4(0,4)–3(1,3), and 4(3,2)–4(2,3). All the targeted fine-structure lines were detected, along with half of the targeted molecular transitions. By combining the associated line luminosities with the constraints on the dust temperature from the underlying continuum emission and predictions from photoionization models of the interstellar medium, we find that the ionized phase accounts for about one-third of the total gaseous mass budget and is responsible for half of the total [C II] emission. This phase is characterized by a high density (n ∼ 180 cm−3) that typical of HII regions. The spectral energy distribution of the photoionizing radiation is comparable to that emitted by B-type stars. Star formation also appears to be driving the excitation of the molecular medium. We find marginal evidence for outflow-related shocks in the dense molecular phase, but not in other gas phases. This study showcases the power of multi-line investigations in unveiling the properties of the star-forming medium in galaxies at cosmic dawn.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2024
  4. Abstract Luminous quasars are powerful targets to investigate the role of feedback from supermassive black holes (BHs) in regulating the growth phases of BHs themselves and of their host galaxies, up to the highest redshifts. Here we investigate the cosmic evolution of the occurrence and kinematics of BH-driven outflows, as traced by broad absorption line (BAL) features, due to the C iv ionic transition. We exploit a sample of 1935 quasars at z = 2.1–6.6 with bolometric luminosity log( L bol /erg s −1 ) ≳ 46.5, drawn from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and from the X-Shooter legacy survey of Quasars at the Reionization Epoch (XQR-30). We consider rest-frame optical bright quasars to minimize observational biases due to quasar selection criteria. We apply a homogeneous BAL-identification analysis, based on employing composite template spectra to estimate the quasar intrinsic emission. We find a BAL quasar fraction close to 20% at z ∼ 2–4, while it increases to almost 50% at z ∼ 6. The velocity and width of the BAL features also increase at z ≳ 4.5. We exclude the possibility that the redshift evolution of the BAL properties is due to differences in terms of quasar luminosity and accretion rate. These results suggest significant BH feedback occurring in the 1 Gyr old universe, likely affecting the growth of BHs and, possibly, of their host galaxies, as supported by models of early BH and galaxy evolution. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024
  5. Abstract

    We present thez≈ 6 type-1 quasar luminosity function (QLF), based on the Pan-STARRS1 (PS1) quasar survey. The PS1 sample includes 125 quasars atz≈ 5.7–6.2, with −28 ≲M1450≲ −25. With the addition of 48 fainter quasars from the SHELLQs survey, we evaluate thez≈ 6 QLF over −28 ≲M1450≲ −22. Adopting a double power law with an exponential evolution of the quasar density (Φ(z) ∝ 10k(z−6);k= −0.7), we use a maximum likelihood method to model our data. We find a break magnitude ofM*=26.380.60+0.79mag, a faint-end slope ofα=1.700.19+0.29, and a steep bright-end slope ofβ=3.841.21+0.63. Based on our new QLF model, we determine the quasar comoving spatial density atz≈ 6 to ben(M1450<26)=1.160.12+0.13cGpc3. In comparison with the literature, we find the quasar density to evolve with a constant value ofk≈ −0.7, fromz≈ 7 toz≈ 4. Additionally, we derive an ionizing emissivity ofϵ912(z=6)=7.231.02+1.65×1022ergs1Hz1cMpc3, based on the QLF measurement. Given standard assumptions, and the recent measurement of the mean free path by Becker et al. atz≈ 6, we calculate an Hiphotoionizing rate of ΓH I(z= 6) ≈ 6 × 10−16s−1, strongly disfavoring a dominant role of quasars in hydrogen reionization.

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    Proximity zones of high-redshift quasars are unique probes of their central supermassive black holes as well as the intergalactic medium (IGM) in the last stages of reionization. We present 22 new measurements of proximity zones of quasars with redshifts between 5.8 and 6.6, using the enlarged XQR-30 sample of high-resolution, high-SNR quasar spectra. The quasars in our sample have ultraviolet magnitudes of M1450 ∼ −27 and black hole masses of 109–1010 M⊙. Our inferred proximity zone sizes are 2–7 physical Mpc, with a typical uncertainty of less than 0.5 physical Mpc, which, for the first time, also includes uncertainty in the quasar continuum. We find that the correlation between proximity zone sizes and the quasar redshift, luminosity, or black hole mass, indicates a large diversity of quasar lifetimes. Two of our proximity zone sizes are exceptionally small. The spectrum of one of these quasars, with z  = 6.02, displays, unusually for this redshift, damping wing absorption without any detectable metal lines, which could potentially originate from the IGM. The other quasar has a high-ionization absorber ∼0.5 pMpc from the edge of the proximity zone. This work increases the number of proximity zone measurements available in the last stages of cosmic reionization to 87. This data will lead to better constraints on quasar lifetimes and obscuration fractions at high redshift, that in turn will help probe the seed mass and formation redshift of supermassive black holes.

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  7. Abstract

    The identification of bright quasars atz≳ 6 enables detailed studies of supermassive black holes, massive galaxies, structure formation, and the state of the intergalactic medium within the first billion years after the Big Bang. We present the spectroscopic confirmation of 55 quasars at redshifts 5.6 <z< 6.5 and UV magnitudes −24.5 <M1450< −28.5 identified in the optical Pan-STARRS1 and near-IR VIKING surveys (48 and 7, respectively). Five of these quasars have independently been discovered in other studies. The quasar sample shows an extensive range of physical properties, including 17 objects with weak emission lines, 10 broad absorption line quasars, and 5 objects with strong radio emission (radio-loud quasars). There are also a few notable sources in the sample, including a blazar candidate atz= 6.23, a likely gravitationally lensed quasar atz= 6.41, and az= 5.84 quasar in the outskirts of the nearby (D∼ 3 Mpc) spiral galaxy M81. The blazar candidate remains undetected in NOEMA observations of the [Cii]and underlying emission, implying a star formation rate <30–70Myr−1. A significant fraction of the quasars presented here lies at the foundation of the first measurement of thez∼ 6 quasar luminosity function from Pan-STARRS1 (introduced in a companion paper). These quasars will enable further studies of the high-redshift quasar population with current and future facilities.

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  8. Abstract

    Cosmic reionization was the last major phase transition of hydrogen from neutral to highly ionized in the intergalactic medium (IGM). Current observations show that the IGM is significantly neutral atz> 7 and largely ionized byz∼ 5.5. However, most methods to measure the IGM neutral fraction are highly model dependent and are limited to when the volume-averaged neutral fraction of the IGM is either relatively low (x¯HI103) or close to unity (x¯HI1). In particular, the neutral fraction evolution of the IGM at the critical redshift range ofz= 6–7 is poorly constrained. We present new constraints onx¯HIatz∼ 5.1–6.8 by analyzing deep optical spectra of 53 quasars at 5.73 <z< 7.09. We derive model-independent upper limits on the neutral hydrogen fraction based on the fraction of “dark” pixels identified in the Lyαand Lyβforests, without any assumptions on the IGM model or the intrinsic shape of the quasar continuum. They are the first model-independent constraints on the IGM neutral hydrogen fraction atz∼ 6.2–6.8 using quasar absorption measurements. Our results give upper limits ofx¯HI(z=6.3)<0.79±0.04(1σ),x¯HI(z=6.5)<0.87±0.03(1σ), andx¯HI(z=6.7)<0.940.09+0.06(1σ). The dark pixel fractions atz> 6.1 are consistent with the redshift evolution of the neutral fraction of the IGM derived from Planck 2018.

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  9. Abstract

    We present measurements of black hole masses and Eddington ratios (λEdd) for a sample of 38 bright (M1450< −24.4 mag) quasars at 5.8 ≲z≲ 7.5, derived from Very Large Telescope/X–shooter near–IR spectroscopy of their broad Civand Mgiiemission lines. The black hole masses (on average,MBH∼ 4.6 × 109M) and accretion rates (0.1 ≲λEdd≲ 1.0) are broadly consistent with that of similarly luminous 0.3 ≲z≲ 2.3 quasars, but there is evidence for a mild increase in the Eddington ratio abovez≳ 6. Combined with deep Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) observations of the [CII] 158μm line from the host galaxies and VLT/MUSE investigations of the extended Lyαhalos, this study provides fundamental clues to models of the formation and growth of the first massive galaxies and black holes. Compared to local scaling relations,z≳ 5.7 black holes appear to be over-massive relative to their hosts, with accretion properties that do not change with host galaxy morphologies. Assuming that the kinematics of theT∼ 104K gas, traced by the extended Lyαhalos, are dominated by the gravitational potential of the dark matter halo, we observe a similar relation between black hole mass and circular velocity as reported forz∼ 0 galaxies. These results paint a picture where the first supermassive black holes reside in massive halos atz≳ 6 and lead the first stages of galaxy formation by rapidly growing in mass with a duty cycle of order unity. The duty cycle needs to drastically drop toward lower redshifts, while the host galaxies continue forming stars at a rate of hundreds of solar masses per year, sustained by the large reservoirs of cool gas surrounding them.

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  10. We investigate the molecular gas content of z  ∼ 6 quasar host galaxies using the Institut de Radioastronomie Millimétrique Northern Extended Millimeter Array. We targeted the 3 mm dust continuum, and the line emission from CO(6–5), CO(7–6), and [C  I ] 2−1 in ten infrared–luminous quasars that have been previously studied in their 1 mm dust continuum and [C  II ] line emission. We detected CO(7–6) at various degrees of significance in all the targeted sources, thus doubling the number of such detections in z  ∼ 6 quasars. The 3 mm to 1 mm flux density ratios are consistent with a modified black body spectrum with a dust temperature T dust  ∼ 47 K and an optical depth τ ν  = 0.2 at the [C  II ] frequency. Our study provides us with four independent ways to estimate the molecular gas mass, M H2 , in the targeted quasars. This allows us to set constraints on various parameters used in the derivation of molecular gas mass estimates, such as the mass per luminosity ratios α CO and α [CII] , the gas-to-dust mass ratio δ g/d , and the carbon abundance [C]/H 2 . Leveraging either on the dust, CO, [C  I ], or [C  II ] emission yields mass estimates of the entire sample in the range M H2  ∼ 10 10 –10 11 M ⊙ . We compared the observed luminosities of dust, [C  II ], [C  I ], and CO(7–6) with predictions from photo-dissociation and X-ray dominated regions. We find that the former provide better model fits to our data, assuming that the bulk of the emission arises from dense ( n H  > 10 4 cm −3 ) clouds with a column density N H  ∼ 10 23 cm −2 , exposed to a radiation field with an intensity of G 0  ∼ 10 3 (in Habing units). Our analysis reiterates the presence of massive reservoirs of molecular gas fueling star formation and nuclear accretion in z  ∼ 6 quasar host galaxies. It also highlights the power of combined 3 mm and 1 mm observations for quantitative studies of the dense gas content in massive galaxies at cosmic dawn. 
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