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Durham University

Department of Physics

Staff profile

Publication details for Prof David Alexander

Alexander, D.M., Chary, R.R., Pope, A., Bauer, F.E., Brandt, W.N., Daddi, E., Dickinson, M., Elbaz, D. & Reddy, N.A. (2008). Reliable identification of Compton-thick quasars at z~2 Spitzer mid-infrared spectroscopy of HDF-oMD49. The astrophysical journal 687(2): 835-847.

Author(s) from Durham


Many models that seek to explain the origin of the unresolved X-ray background predict that Compton-thick active galactic nuclei (AGNs) are ubiquitous at high redshift. However, few distant Compton-thick AGNs have been reliably identified to date. Here we present Spitzer IRS spectroscopy and 3.6-70 μm photometry of a z=2.211 optically identified AGN (HDF-oMD49) that is formally undetected in the 2 Ms Chandra Deep Field-North (CDF-N) survey. The Spitzer IRS spectrum and spectral energy distribution of this object is AGN dominated, and a comparison of the energetics at X-ray wavelengths to those derived from mid-infrared (mid-IR) and optical spectroscopy shows that the AGN is intrinsically luminous (L2-10keV~3×1044 ergs s-1) but heavily absorbed by Compton-thick material (NH>>1024 cm-2) i.e., this object is a Compton-thick quasar. Adopting the same approach that we applied to HDF-oMD49, we found a further six objects at z~2-2.5 in the literature that are also X-ray weak/undetected but have evidence for AGN activity from optical and/or mid-IR spectroscopy, and show that all of these sources are likely to be Compton-thick quasars with L2-10keV>1044 ergs s-1. On the basis of the definition of Daddi et al., these Compton-thick quasars would be classified as mid-IR excess galaxies, and our study provides the first spectroscopic confirmation of Compton-thick AGN activity in a subsample of these z~2 mid-IR-bright galaxies. Using the four objects that lie in the CDF-N field, we estimate the space density of reliably identified Compton-thick quasars [Φ~(0.7-2.5)×10-5 Mpc-3 for L2-10keV>1044 ergs s-1 objects at z~2-2.5] and show that Compton-thick accretion was probably as ubiquitous as unobscured accretion in the distant universe.