Are Active Galactic Nuclei in Post-starburst Galaxies Driving the Change or Along for the Ride?

August 2022 • 2022ApJ...935...29L

Authors • Lanz, Lauranne • Stepanoff, Sofia • Hickox, Ryan C. • Alatalo, Katherine • French, K. Decker • Rowlands, Kate • Nyland, Kristina • Appleton, Philip N. • Lacy, Mark • Medling, Anne • Mulchaey, John S. • Sazonova, Elizaveta • Urry, Claudia Megan

Abstract • We present an analysis of 10 ks snapshot Chandra observations of 12 shocked post-starburst galaxies, which provide a window into the unresolved question of active galactic nuclei (AGN) activity in post-starburst galaxies and its role in the transition of galaxies from active star formation to quiescence. While seven of the 12 galaxies have statistically significant detections (with two more marginal detections), the brightest only obtained 10 photons. Given the wide variety of hardness ratios in this sample, we chose to pursue a forward-modeling approach to constrain the intrinsic luminosity and obscuration of these galaxies, rather than stacking. We constrain the intrinsic luminosity of obscured power laws based on the total number of counts and spectral shape, itself mostly set by the obscuration, with hardness ratios consistent with the data. We also tested thermal models. While all the galaxies have power-law models consistent with their observations, a third of the galaxies are better fit as an obscured power law and another third are better fit as thermal emission. If these post-starburst galaxies, early in their transition, contain AGNs, then these are mostly confined to lower obscuration (N H ≤ 1023 cm-2) and lower luminosity (L 2-10 keV ≤ 1042 erg s-1). Two galaxies, however, are clearly best fit as significantly obscured AGNs. At least half of this sample shows evidence of at least low-luminosity AGN activity, though none could radiatively drive out the remaining molecular gas reservoirs. Therefore, these AGNs are more likely along for the ride, having been fed gas by the same processes driving the transition.


IPAC Authors


Phil Appleton

Senior Scientist